As temperatures drop, the number of homeless persons in need of shelter continues to increase.

As temperatures drop, the number of homeless persons in need of shelter continues to increase.

“It’s always busy; but when it gets cold, we receive more phone calls from people who really need to get in from outside,” said Melinda Wolfe, executive director of Casa San Francisco Emergency Adult Shelter in Milton, run by Catholic Charities. “We’re hearing from people in very severe situations, such as people living in cars or under bridges.”

According to the Homeless Planning Council of Delaware, roughly 8,350 people are estimated to be homeless in Delaware annually. That number has increased significantly from about 6,760 in 2009.

Earlier this year, the HPCD conducted a Point in Time Survey which serves to provide a snapshot of the homeless population in a community on one designated night. Of the 1,418 homeless persons included in the Jan. 29 survey, 142 were in Sussex County, 226 in Kent County and 1,047 in New Castle County.

According to the survey, disability is the most common reason for homelessness in Delaware, followed by unemployment, inability to pay rent or mortgage and domestic violence, among others.

Casa San Francisco is able to house 10 adults for up to 30 days. Wolfe said the situations these people come from are varied, to include 18-year-olds aging out of foster care, those suffering from mental health illnesses, professionals whose businesses went under, the unemployed and live-in home attendants whose clients have passed away.

“We had a veteran a few months ago who had lived in the woods for three years before he came to us,” she said, adding the demand for shelter exceeds Casa San Francisco’s capabilities. “With only 10 beds, we can’t take them all.”

Nancy Woodruff, program director for Sussex Community Crisis Housing Services in Georgetown, said her shelter can house 17 or 18 people, depending on whether they have children, for up to 30 days. In her seven years working for Crisis House, Woodruff said she’s seen the need for assistance grow.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of families with children lately,” she said. “The economy is still bad and donations are down. People are not giving like they used to.”

Woodruff said Crisis House works with its residents to find employment and housing before their 30 days is up. However, she said, finding employment in central Sussex County is difficult for homeless individuals without cars.

“Even if they find jobs, some buses don’t run on the weekends and some buses stop running during the winter,” Woodruff said.

Susan Starrett, executive director of the HPCD, said on any given night, there are 1,000 people experiencing homelessness throughout Delaware. The majority of those individuals and families have a roof over their head, whether they are in a hotel or a motel, in a homeless program, or staying with friends or family. However, Starrett said, at least 10 percent of homeless persons have no place to stay and are living in cars, abandoned buildings, under bridges or in other “unimaginable” locations.

“Because of these precarious living situations – even those who are sheltered are in precarious housing – those Delawareans who experience homelessness face increased chance of physical harm, medical problems and death,” she said.

According to HPCD, throughout this year, 14 homeless persons died in Delaware. Two of those people – a 49-year-old man and a 58-year-old man – were in Sussex County.

To help keep these folks warm, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services’ Office of Community Services handed out 780 blankets last week to five agencies across the state, including Casa San Francisco, to distribute to the homeless.

According to Jill Fredel, a spokeswoman for the DHSS, the blankets being distributed are manufactured by the Rhode Island-based Northwest Woolen Mills and are the same quality as those provided to the armed forces.

“The blankets, made specifically for disaster relief and homelessness, are 100 percent wool, flame retardant, water proof and perfect for all seasons and climates,” Fredel said.

Wolfe said Casa San Francisco will likely target its senior population for blanket distribution.