Homelessness in Franklin County primarily is centered in municipalities where more services are available.
That’s according to Sheriff Steve Pelton, who noted there is a small population of homeless people outside of city limits, adding that there are times that deputies run across people camping in the county.
Homelessness has recently been a topic addressed during meetings of elected officials in Franklin County cities, and during conversations with local police chiefs.
“It makes sense that the homeless are in municipalities because of services offered there,” Pelton explained.
That includes food pantries, transportation, Wi-Fi and other amenities.
“In the rural area that is not available,” Pelton added. “I’m not saying that people are living out of a tent from time to time — there is a small population.”
There also are times where homeless people “couch surf” and move locations from time to time. Typically those people are young adults and that is not as evident.
Increase in St. Clair
Aldermen in St. Clair ramped up their public discussions on homelessness Sept. 4 when two residents stated there was a noticeable increase of homeless people on Main Street.
St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack said vagrancy is not against the law and police cannot do anything if people simply are sitting or sleeping on public benches.
He added residents have seen an increase of homeless people along Main Street because there are two organizations in St. Clair that are trying to assist them.
Hammack said arresting people on public property if they have not committed a crime is a violation of their constitutional rights.
“If you have homeless people who are on your property and you don’t want them there, and you call the police, they will either be removed or arrested,” Hammack said at the September board meeting.
He stated if homeless people break the law, that’s when police can intervene. He added those who are indigent and are arrested for petty crimes often do not pay their fines because they have no income.
Washington City Council
Council members in Washington also discussed an increase in homelessness and the challenges that has caused.
At its Oct. 1 meeting, the council sought help from the Franklin County Homeless Task Force and residents to develop solutions for the apparent increase in homelessness in Washington over the past few years.
Some Washington business owners stated that homeless people loitering outside their storefronts are causing them to lose business.
Mayor Sandy Lucy said she has seen a growing presence of homelessness, which has increased over the last few weeks.
Police Chief Ed Menefee, who serves on the Homeless Task Force, said strides have been made to feed and clothe homeless people. He explained the largest hurdle is housing.
Menefee also stated that there is no crime for being on public property and that people still have their civil rights. He said people should call the police if they would like officers to ask the homeless to move from an area so they can write warnings for trespassing.
Homeless in Union
Union Police Chief Norman Brune noted homelessness is likely at an all-time high in that community.
Brune said there are many factors for the rise in the homeless population, including drug use. In recent years, opioid addiction has increased and that has led to more homeless people.
The rise in the number of homeless people has led to an increase in some crime. Brune said shoplifting is up, as well as cars being broken into.
For the most part, however, Brune said the homeless population hasn’t been an issue.
Brune added more can be done to help the homeless population.
“They’re still human beings and they’re struggling, whether they brought it on themselves or not,” he said. “As a Christian, we should try to help. It’s the right thing to do.”
Combatting homelessness is a complex issue. Brune pointed out it’s not a simple solution that one can just throw money at and have things be resolved.
Created in 2016, the task force is comprised of volunteer representatives from various churches, civic organizations, the Federal Housing Development program, Empac, school district officials and other groups.
The task force works to provide food, shelter and the means for homeless individuals to get back on their feet in the county.
Many people from all over the county attend a monthly Franklin County Providers meeting, held the first Tuesday of the month, at 10 a.m., in the lower level of the Washington police station to discuss homelessness and other issues.