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Homelessness invisible to many in Louisa County

Posted on Friday, August 24, 2018 at 10:28 am

Michael Payne (at left) who goes by “Pizza,” and Dominic Green, also known as
“Pocket Trash,” say people often mistreat them because of their appearance. They are some of Louisa’s homeless, a problem that few in the county are aware of and that remains without a solution on the local level.

Homelessness is not something that most people think of when they think about problems facing Louisa County. They picture a man sleeping in a refrigerator box on a city street somewhere.

But the reality is, housing is one of the major issues facing residents of Louisa County. For many, it is a matter of simple math: working minimum-wage jobs that offer little in the way of benefits or insurance, having mouths to feed and clothes to buy, there is often too little left over at the end of the month for people to afford another $600 to $1,000 for rent.

Board of Supervisors member Willie Gentry (Cuckoo district) said that there is a lack of data regarding the subject.

“People and organizations come out and all they have is data for the region, but what I want to know is specific to Louisa County,” Gentry said. “So I don’t know if that number [of homeless people in Louisa County] exists right now. It’s something we need to look into.”

The shortage of data is lamented by many officials involved in addressing Louisa County’s housing problem, and the shortage runs always to the federal level. While Congress receives an annual homelessness report every year, its accuracy is often called into question by housing advocates.

In Louisa County, the only statistic that is readily available is the poverty rate, determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2017 the bureau said the poverty rate in Louisa County was 12.2 percent, or one percent above the state’s overall poverty level. Gentry said that it’s important to remember that while 12 percent of residents are in poverty, many others are also struggling to get by.

“We have another 10 or 12 percent that is just over that, and they can sometimes have to choose between paying rent and putting food in their mouths, too,” he said.

With many people in Louisa living below or just above the poverty line, advocates say the number of people in need of housing assistance is far greater than most people realize.

“We have people coming through our doors who have had the rug pulled out from underneath them,” Dan Burke,   director of the Fluvanna-Louisa Housing Foundation, said. “Families with children, who have no place to go, no income… People in Louisa need to recognize the fact that it’s a real problem in our area.”

One of the more difficult parts of Burke’s job, he said, is having to tell people that he can’t help them.

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