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Homeless Count
Annual night homeless count uncovers a few of region's unsheltered people

CARBONDALE — It's about 10 p.m., the dark obscuring the faces huddled outside the building.

The man, who says he is 64 years old, is "home" for the night.

"This is my bedroom," he says, pointing to a two-foot high roll of blankets and comforters.

"Bedroom" is the front part of an abandoned building, a place the man has called home for the past three years.

This night, three other people are in his home. One, a woman who peeks her head over her dark comforter to scrutinize strangers who have come to talk to them. Beside her, bundled up in comforters and blankets is a man who peeked over his covers in an initial visit, but now appears to ignore the visitors.

A few feet away from both of them is another massive bundle, what looks to be a brown-taupe tarp covering items, but which Harry says is another man. This bundle doesn't appear to move or stir during a 30-minute visit with these individuals.

Harry is among a handful of people who are homeless, unsheltered in social service speak, who were counted across Southern Illinois on Tuesday night for the annual homeless census point-in-time count. This count indicates to decision makers and policy makers how many people who are homeless live in Southern Illinois.

How many homeless are there?

The count of the number of homeless people from Tuesday night's count won't be known for awhile, said Camille Dorris, executive director of the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless.

That organization is part of the Southern Illinois Continuum of Care Network, which receives funding for services, based on the number of homeless people counted.

In last year's count — which happened Jan. 24, 2017 — there were 435 individuals counted. Of that number, about 32 percent were unsheltered, which means they were not living in a shelter or transitional shelter, but likely living on the streets.

"Unsheltered" is a term used to describe people who do not use shelters and are typically found on the streets, in abandoned buildings or "in other places not meant for human habitation," according to sources at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That 435 included 200 female, 229 males and 6 who identified as transgender. Sixty-two were African-American (14 percent) and 314 were white (72 percent).

More than one fourth of the 435 — almost 26 percent — were children younger than 18 years old (112), who were homeless with at least one adult, according to data from last year's report.

Of those children, 48 were living in a shelter, 34 were in a transitional shelter, and 30 were unsheltered, according to the report.

Of that 435 homeless individuals counted, 247 did not have children; the remainder of those, 188, comprised households with at least one adult and at least one child.

Those who are homeless or unsheltered live throughout the area, said Patty Mullen, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries of Carbondale. That agency provides emergency shelter and transitional housing and runs an Emergency Assistance Program that helps with rent and mortgage and utilities so that people can stay in their own homes.

"They live in the woods, behind grocery stores, in sheds, overpasses, storm drains, any place they can find refuge from the elements," she said. "I heard a story about a guy in Chicago who was allowing people to stay in his basement but he was shut down as he did not have adequate space, water access, fire codes, etc."

The few counted Tuesday night

No children were encountered during Tuesday night's nearly three-hour count done by Southern Illinois University Carbondale doctoral students Stephanie Jerstad and Brett Lacey. Jerstad leaves each with a resource guide prepared by local community advocates and, in some instances, gallon-sized bags packed with personal hygiene toiletries and other items.

The duo started at Good Samaritan House, for insight on where to find others who are homeless. Good Sam's will conduct its own count, so those who are living there cannot be counted in Jerstad and Lacey's census count.

Those they encounter there can't provide many leads, as they themselves are relatively new to Carbondale.

They share their stories with the count team — one man called Ava police after he found himself kicked out of his girlfriend's apartment during last week's bitter cold and was driven to Good Sam's. Another man newly here from Kentucky "looking for a new lease on life," especially with more stable employment.

And another man who came here from Chester after he lost his job and his brother also told him to leave his place.

These three told stories of irregular work or low-paying jobs, one of them told about how a head injury and child support weakened his ability to keep secure housing.

The duo next head to a site where homeless gather during the day for food, fellowship and warmth. The site is empty and there is no evidence that anyone will be returning anytime soon.

Their next encounter is with another small camp at an abandoned building.

There, they encounter the 64-year-old who explains that he became homeless after he and his wife divorced; she kept the house and he moved out — into homelessness. His old home is not too far from where he hunkers down.

He said people have invited him to stay with them for awhile, but he declines. He keeps clothing and other valuables in his car, which is parked at a friend's house.

He said that during the two-week frigid snap when nighttime temperatures fell below freezing and dipped into the single digits, he still hunkered down for the night at his post outside the closed building.

He does not work, saying no one will hire him, a 64-year-old who is told by some gathered that he looks much younger than his years. He doesn't receive Social Security benefits yet, saying he wants to "max out" — wait three more years until he turns 67 to receive a maximum retirement amount.

He said he's already taken shelter outside the closed building for the past three years. He was there during the nearly two weeks this month when the temperatures plummeted to below freezing, dipping most nights into the single digits. This, even though he heard that the Gaia House had opened as an overnight warming station. Yep, he knew, "from 8 to 8."

He points to the clothing he is wearing, saying he has on about four or five jackets.

He said others who are homeless have told him that they pitch tents throughout the city. Where, he says, he doesn't know.

The final man encountered for the night is a 52-year-old man from Marion, but who found himself in Carbondale a few years ago. For a few nights, he tried to hunker down in a five-foot wide spot between an ice chest and a wall outside a Walnut Street gas station/convenience store.

During the bitterly frigid cold snap a week ago, he found refuge from the cold  in a closed building, given the permission to do so by someone with authority to grant it. Speaking in a quiet voice, he says he prefers to stay away from others, to avoid trouble.

He said he supports himself by collecting cans and other scraps of metal to sale for cash. He receives about $700 a month in disability.

Need for more facilities

During almost two weeks of bitterly cold, below-freezing day and nighttime temperatures this month, Fern Chappell and other board members of the Gaia House opened up the facility as a warming station for people to stay in overnight.

One of those who helped staff at the Gaia House warming station overnight was Scott Martin, a community volunteer and advocate who also heads the Carbondale Interfaith Council.

He said City Manager Gary Williams told him the front hall at the Carbondale Police Department was available to the homeless to warm themselves. He said he was in that area last week and saw a single man sitting on a bench reading a paper.

"I asked and he had come inside to warm up," Martin shared. "Not very comfortable — no beds available — but better than 5 degrees outside."

He also shared the story of a man he met at the warming station, who'd come there after sleeping the cold night before in the woods.

Martin said the man told him that, at night, raccoons often got food he hung up in trees for future use.

When he saw the man a week later, the man was headed to the emergency room for care for his right foot that had turned black on that cold night and the toenail of his big toe had fallen off in the sock, Martin said.

"I'd like to see a larger building than the Good Sam facility," Martin said. "A facility that can house families with children in one area as well as separated areas for vets with PSTD and adults that can't be around children for various reasons, in another section or building would be useful."

"I'm no social worker or expert, but there definitely needs to have additional mental health assistance for some of the homeless," Martin said. "Some people haven't taken medications, or the meds get lost or taken, or they can't afford meds."

Good Samaritan's Mullen echoed his thoughts.

"So we have to look at this issue … helping people," Mullen said. "It’s the right thing to do. Keep them safe, keep our communities safe. But there are many barriers to overcome." 

Transgender inmate gets 2020 trial date for her federal civil suit alleging sexual abuse at Pinckneyville Correctional

EAST ST. LOUIS — Strawberry (Deon) Hampton, an inmate at the Lawrence Correctional Center, was granted a 2020 jury trial date in her lawsuit against Illinois Department of Corrections officials from the Pinckneyville Correctional Center for alleged abuses she says she suffered because of her status as a transgender woman.

The suit, which will be heard in court March 16, 2020 in East. St Louis, is one of two that were filed by Hampton. The second was resolved earlier this month against members of the Menard Correctional Center and was also for abuses by guards — she recounted multiple beatings and sexual abuse at the hands of correctional officers in her time at the prisons. This matter was resolved during a preliminary injunction hearing.

Hampton is currently serving a 10-year sentence for burglary.

As part of the case’s settlement, Hampton was sent to Lawrence, a facility already housing other transgender inmates and which also has support networks in place for people who identify as transgender.

The injunction hearing was held in order to deal with what the plaintiff deemed to be immediate concerns for her well-being. During the first day, some of the details of her suit against officers at Pinckneyville were revealed.

During her testimony Jan. 5, Hampton alleged she suffered several incidents of abuse at the hands of corrections officers — verbal and physical.

There are also allegations in the suit's original complaint of retribution for Hampton filing complaints through official IDOC channels.

The complaint filed with the court last year lays out nine total charges including a violation of the Hate Crime Act, as well as violations of Hampton’s first, eighth and 14th Amendment rights and accuses a list of more than 20 defendants.

As for the extended timeline of the case, Hampton’s attorney Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, said this is not uncommon in civil rights cases. He said they have to be slipped in between criminal cases which have a much stricter timeline due to the defendants’ right to a speedy trial.

Part of Hampton’s settlement of her other case against IDOC personnel was transfer to Lawrence and Mills came short of saying this was going swimmingly.

“It’s certainly better than Menard was,” Mills said.

He said they are still trying to smooth out the rough parts for their client.

“We are still talking about the transition with the defendant,” Mills said. “We hope that those talks will be fruitful.” He declined to go into specifics about the talks and would not say if further motions in that case were planned to be filed.

After the resolution of the case against Menard was finalized Jan. 9, Mills said he and his team have retained the right as part of the settlement to again sue IDOC based on any noncompliance with the agreed upon terms.

In the Trial Practice Schedule filed Wednesday announcing the jury setting, there were several deadlines, including a July 1, 2019, deadline for all discovery to be filed.

breaking featured
West City
Police: Two dead in West City home, foul play by a third party not anticipated

WEST CITY — The West City Police Department confirmed Friday that two people were found dead Thursday in a home located at 425 S. Central St.

A news release Friday from the West City Police Department said a death investigation was underway after the department was contacted by relatives of residents in the 400 block of West Central Street at about 2:45 p.m. Thursday reporting a possible death.

Investigators discovered two adult subjects deceased inside the home. Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigators were contacted to assist in processing the residence.

The release states that the cause of death is under investigation. It also states that the "West City Police Department does not anticipate any foul play by a third party." An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday to determine the cause of death. The names will not be released until all family has been notified.

In addition to ISP Crime Scene Investigators, West City Police was assisted by the Franklin County Coroner, Abbott EMS and others.

Flu widespread across US for third straight week

NEW YORK — Sick with the flu? You've got a lot of company.

The flu blanketed the U.S. again last week for the third straight week. Only Hawaii has been spared.

Last week, 1 in 15 doctor visits were for symptoms of the flu. That's the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The government doesn't track every flu case but comes up with estimates; one measure is how many people seek medical care for fever, cough, aches and other flu symptoms.

Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii, with 39 states reporting high traffic to doctors last week, up from 32.

At this rate, by the end of the season somewhere around 34 million Americans will have gotten sick from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Some good news: Hospital stays and deaths from the flu among the elderly so far haven't been as high as in some other recent flu seasons. However, hospitalization rates for people 50 to 64 — baby boomers, mostly — has been unusually high, CDC officials said in the report, which covers the week ending Jan. 20.

A New York pediatrician said her office has been busy but the kids with the flu haven't been quite as sick as in the past.

"For most of them, their symptoms are milder," said Dr. Tiffany Knipe.

This year's flu shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, mostly the H3N2 flu virus. But exactly how well it is working won't be known until next month. It's the same main bug from last winter, when the flu season wasn't so bad. It's not clear why this season — with the same bug — is worse, some experts said.

"That's the kicker. This virus really doesn't look that different from what we saw last year," said Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

It may be that many of the people getting sick this year managed to avoid infection last year. Or there may be some change in the virus that hasn't been detected yet, said the CDC's Dr. Dan Jernigan, in a call with reporters Friday.

Based on patterns from past seasons, it's likely the flu season will start to wane soon, experts say. There are some places, like California, where the season already seems to be easing, CDC officials said.

"If I was a betting man, I'd put money on it going down," Webby said. "But I've lost money on bets before."

The season usually peaks in February, but this season started early and took off in December.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but more a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. In a bad season, there are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu.

In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older. Last season, about 47 percent of Americans got vaccinated, according to CDC figures.

Jennifer Manton didn't get a flu shot and got sick about two weeks ago, hit by high fever and body aches. She missed two days of work at a New York law firm, and felt bad for about 10 days.

"I had not had the flu since 1996," said the 48-year-old Manton. "It's been 22 years since I felt that badly."