Except for a few cities showing declines, homelessness continues to thwart policymakers and practitioners seeking long-term solutions. Rural areas are no different, and smaller populations face their own set of unique problems.
Even with data limitations due to the pandemic and the flawed metrics of only using shelter census figures to arrive at a “homeless population” number, it is clear the problem remains a crisis. The National Alliance to End Homelessness states that homelessness was on a decline up to four years ago. Since then, there has been a yearly increase, hovering well over a half-million overall, and 408,000 categorized as chronic—continuously homeless for at least a year or homeless at least four times in the last three years for a combined length of one year.
Rural America reflects similar patterns of homelessness. The numbers may be fractional, but they exist. Chestertown and greater Kent County are not immune.
Over the last several years, the Chestertown community has started to focus on those seeking shelter. Cold winters, Covid, lack of low-income housing, poverty, inflation and all the complex ingredients that that make for the tragedy of homelessness have ignited a call-to-arms to address the short-term issue of providing temporary shelter, along with the challenge to move beyond a patchwork of fixes toward a more permanent solution.
While the reality of a 24-hour shelter might remain out of reach for now, there is good news. Kent County organizations have rallied to create the Kent County Coalition for the Homeless to unify the various and sometimes overlapping services available.
Coalition members Rachel Carter and Dawson Hunter see the coalition as a significant step forward in addressing homelessness in the County. Rachel Carter is also Interim Chair of Kent County Conference on Homelessness, a role that revolves among their member groups.
Member organizations include Mid-Shore Behavioral Health, Samaritan Group, Good Neighbor Fund, Chester Valley Ministries, and Hope Community Outreach, with Kent County Department of Social Services acting as the primary liaison to connect a client to the appropriate resource.
Historically, people suffering from homelessness in the Kent County have been offered overnight cold weather shelter from January through March by the Samaritan Group of Chestertown and their faith partners, Church of the Nazarene, First United Methodist, and Presbyterian Church of Chestertown. Still, because of hours of operation and other eligibility requirements, some people have gone without shelter.
Carter and Hunter see the Kent County Department of Social Services as the gateway member of the coalition. Social Services can evaluate clients’ specific needs and refer them to the appropriate service.
Member organizations of the Coalition meet as the Kent County Conference on Homelessness meets once a month to share information and strategies.
The Spy recently met with Rachel Carter and Dawson to talk about the Coalition.
This video is approximately seven minutes in length. To volunteer for the ongoing effort to stem the tide of homelessness, call Kent County Department of Social Service at 410-810-7600 or see their website here.