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United Way of Lancaster County


Local homelessness Point-in-Time Count up 13.5% over 2023

Personal belongings are piled on a bench and shopping cart in Binns Park in this January 2023 file photo. (Source: OUL file)

Nearly 600 individuals across Lancaster County were homeless on the night of Jan. 24, according to the county’s annual “Point in Time” count or “PIT Count.”

The Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition conducts the annual census, a federal requirement intended to give a snapshot of homelessness in a given community.

Of the 597 individuals who were tallied, 122 were out of doors and unsheltered, with the other 475 either in emergency shelters or transitional housing. The total is up 13.5% over last year and is the highest level since 2010.

Click to enlarge. (Source: Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition | OUL)

This year’s tally built on advances in methodology initiated last year. In all, 69 volunteers took part, making up 23 field survey teams (up from 43 volunteers in 18 teams last year). Using digital maps, they covered 50% more area than before: 475 square miles, or about half of Lancaster County, up from 242 miles last year.

The resulting data “continues to be a more realistic representation of the population,” said Deb Jones, director of the coalition’s office, which is based at the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority.

The 122 unsheltered individuals in the count represent a 14% increase from the 107 found in 2023. The populations in shelters and transitional housing are up 10% and 19%, respectively.

Emergency shelters are short-term congregate settings like the Water Street Mission’s Providence Shelter and the seasonal winter shelters set up in Elizabethtown and Ephrata. Facilities like Tenfold’s TLC provide transitional housing: As the name suggests, transitional housing provides an intermediate step between emergency shelter and long-term housing.

In a statement, the coalition credited two factors for the higher PIT Count numbers: More thorough data collection, and the ongoing homelessness crisis itself, driven in part by the county’s tight housing market and the gap between wages and rents.

Local rental vacancy rates in 2022 were just 3%, according to U.S. Census data. With median housing costs for renters now exceeding $1,200 a month, 43% of county rental households are cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income a month in rent and utilities, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Nearly 24% are severely cost-burdened, paying 50% or more, the center said.

Between December and March, the Lancaster County Food Hub’s low-barrier shelter at 232 N. Prince St. served more than 260 unique individuals. More than half of them were seeking shelter services for the first time, including many chronically homeless individuals, Food Hub Executive Director Paige McFarling said.

The Food Hub is currently winding down the shelter: Its lease expires in June, after which the building that hosted it is slated for redevelopment.

The coalition is planning to open an 80-bed low-barrier shelter in December at Otterbein United Methodist Church. In the interim, however, once the Food Hub shelter closes, the city will have no low-barrier beds; the coalition and its partners are seeking to fill the gap by expanding street outreach.

In a recent presentation to Hourglass Foundation, Mayor Danene Sorace noted that nearly 90% of the Food Hub’s shelter guests report their previous address as outside the city. While homelessness may be most visible downtown around Binns Park, it’s endemic countywide, she said.

“It is a crisis,” she said.