WATERTOWN — So far, it appears that the coronavirus has not increased the level of homelessness in Watertown according to data collected by the Watertown Police Department over the past several years.
The police department’s dispatchers record police contacts with people seeking assistance in situations of homelessness and according to departmental statistics the breakdown indicates there were 48 homeless contacts in 2015, 62 in 2016, 74 in 2017; 56 in 2018; 71 in 2019 and 37 so far in 2020.
According to Watertown Police Department Administrative Capt. Ben Olsen, stimulus money and deferment of debts, along with other financial assistance may be helping people stay afloat during these tough economic times.
“Partnering with the Salvation Army has allowed us to offer vouchers for food, gas and lodging,” Olsen said. “Local hotels have agreed to take part. At most, a hotel room can be booked for $65. We generally only offer funds one time for an individual or family. The goal is to use the funds as a temporary fix until we can get the individual or family in touch with additional services.”
Olsen said members of the Watertown Police Department help collect donations every year by ringing the Salvation Army bell at local businesses. In 2019, the department collected $761.51 in one day.
“It’s great to see the community come together to support this cause,” he said. “The services are definitely needed in our area.”
Olsen said the numbers of people listed as homeless contacts with the police department are mostly ones entering the department’s lobby looking for assistance.
“The overall total only reflects our contact and does not necessarily mean a voucher was given,” he said.
According to Olsen, there is not a stereotypical homeless person in the Watertown community.
“There are people who sleep in their cars until work in the morning,” he said. “People have been found sleeping behind businesses and common ways to apartments. Occurrences are low, but it does happen.”