Two homeless deaths in just eight days is raising awareness about the issue. Across the country, homelessness has been on the rise since the economic downturn in 2008. But the increase shows no signs of slowing. As our Katie Gibas reports, even though the shelters are full, that doesn't mean there isn't any place to go.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- This was the memorial service for Timothy Wilkin, 40, a homeless man who died in a fire a week and a half ago.
Wednesday, there will be another memorial for Michelle Noce, 42, a homeless woman who died Saturday.
While police work to determine her cause of death, community organizations like the Salvation Army continue to struggle with the increasing numbers of people needing their shelters.
"We work together, but our system is being really, really stressed," said Linda Wright, Syracuse Salvation Army Executive Director for Community and Professional Services.
Since 2008, the number of homeless people has increased dramatically. In Onondaga County, about 6,000 people came to homeless shelters this year. The biggest jump has been in the number of families needing help. That doubled from about 700 in 2010 to 1,450 last year and continued to increase this year.
All the shelters are full, but that doesn't mean there isn't anywhere to go. Social services has been placing people in motels.
Wright said, "We have averaged anywhere from a few individuals in the motels up to the numbers of I've heard 70 plus in the hotels. Our shelters are full, plus we have another 70 in motels, just here in Onondaga County alone."
Despite there being somewhere for people to go, many still choose the streets for a number of reasons and experts estimate the number of homeless people outside the shelters is also increasing.
"If you're really being stressed with other kinds of issues, whether it's a mental health concern or domestic violence or family violence or substance abuse, dealing with that takes so much of your energy and concentration that you don't even have time to think of a place to stay," Wright said.
Salvation Army officials say if any good can come out of these two tragedies, they hope it will encourage more people to come forward and help those in need.
Wright said, "The issues of homelessness in a community as wonderful as Syracuse at these levels is not good enough. We're not doing a good enough job, but that takes all of us working together, so hopefully this kind of tragedy will be a call to action for all of our community to come together."
Experts say it is going to take everyone to address this issue because it's one they say will get worse before it gets better.
St. James Catholic Church has coordinated a service for Michelle Noce. It will take place Wednesday at 1 p.m. in a park at the corner of North Franklin and Evans streets. That's near the Arterial and Creekwalk.