By Ed Runyan
On one of coldest days of the year, 20 or so people had a free lunch at the Salvation Army on Franklin Street Southeast and answered an annual survey about homelessness.
The survey is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is used to apply for housing-assistance funds, said Sister Jean Orsuto, a member of the Trumbull County Housing Collaborative, which organized the survey.
The collaborative decided to have the free lunch as part of the 24-hour survey in part because it would have been difficult to find homeless people to interview in the near-zero weather in the area Monday and Tuesday.
Karen Kaczmarek of the Salvation Army said she took hot stew and coffee into Warren on Monday and found a few people out — one on a bicycle in Perkins Park, one near the Mahoning River off of Main Avenue Southwest.
Kaczmarek said she will plan to take the Salvation Army van out with soup and hot drinks every afternoon between 3 and 4:30 p.m. whenever the temperature drops to 15 degrees or lower.
Roxanne, a 51-year-old Warren native, said she stopped for the free lunch provided by three Warren restaurants because she was nearby at an appointment with her case worker at Valley Counseling.
Roxanne said she’s not homeless now but lived “on the streets” four years ago when she was abusing illegal drugs and her weight dropped to 83 pounds.
With help from Valley Counseling, she gets her medications for a host of mental-health disorders for free.
She’s been off illegal drugs for a year, though she was addicted to crack cocaine for a while.
“I don’t wish that on my worst enemy,” she said. Her weight has increased to 120 pounds.
One 55-year-old man who wouldn’t give his name said he rides a bike, lives in a house, but “I’m just broke all the time because it’s hard to find work.”
The man said the biggest reason he sees for homelessness in Warren is abuse of alcohol and drugs, usually both at the same time.
Thomas H. Knepper Jr., 58, says he’s been around the world and lived in Florida and Texas, but now lives in a tent outdoors near Warren in all kinds of weather, including now.
“I don’t want to impose on my friends,” Knepper said of why he lives outside. “A lot of my friends were homeless just last year.”
Knepper, who originally is from Warren, said his experience with the outdoors keeps him safe, but he’s seen a lot of others who were not as successful.
“It only takes one time to get wet,” he said. “If you’re in an empty building or something and you get your shoes or feet wet, you’re in trouble,” he said.
“People living in an abandoned house are using candles, and it only takes one time for the candle to fall over and the whole house can go up,” he said.
“Probably 95 percent of them don’t know what they’re doing,” he said, adding that people using alcohol in cold weather also are risking their lives.
Cathy Zapka, homeless- outreach coordinator for the Catholic Charities Regional Agency, said something new she’s recently seen in Trumbull County is people who’ve come to the area looking for work after hearing about the gas and oil boom but finding out they don’t have the skills needed for the jobs.
“Then they get stranded,” she said.
On Friday, Sister Jean helped a woman and her two children, age 17 and 14, who were living in their car in Niles.
Through the St. Vincent DePaul Society at St. Rose Church in Girard, the three were placed in a motel to get them through the cold snap.
This year’s count might be low because of the extremely cold weather, Sister Jean said.
“When it’s really cold, people will take people in,” she said. “You really don’t see as many in the winter.”
Single men and single women tend to be homeless the most because there are not as many vouchers for low-income housing for them as for families, Sister Jean said.