RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — The number of homeless people in Richland County rose significantly during the past two years, a study by an advocacy group says.
A Jan. 24 count taken by volunteers associated with the S.C. Coalition for the Homeless found 1,518 men, women and children in shelters, on the streets and in other places in the county, an increase of 453 from the last tally of 1,065 in 2011.
It was the largest increase anywhere in the state, the study said.
Homeless ranks in adjoining Lexington County rose slightly from 115 two years ago to 121 in the latest count.
The tally comes as Columbia city leaders prepare to wrestle with recommendations for several changes in help given to the homeless, including a suggestion to open a center for long-term care of some individuals located 10-15 miles from downtown.
In part, the growth found by the survey reflects families affected by joblessness and housing too expensive for their income, coalition chairwoman Anita Floyd said Monday.
People living in cars, garages and outdoors in Richland County grew to 807 this year from 466 in 2011, the study said.
Overall, the study found nearly a third of the 6,035 homeless statewide are new to the ranks. The study in 2011 found 4,701 homeless across the state.
That growth is disturbing, Floyd said.
This is a lag in response to the economy, she said of recovery from the recession, which some experts say has been uneven. The critical piece is to focus on affordable housing.
That could mean residential subsidies that are temporary for some families and permanent for others, she said.
The Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless a coalition of 20 organizations favors those steps as well as opening small housing complexes that provide struggling families shelter, executive director Julie Ann Avin said.
Doing that would be a huge benefit, she said.
The one-day census of homeless taken by coalition staff and volunteers is required in communities receiving federal aid to assist homeless.
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