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More homeless people turned to the Erie County Department of Social Services for emergency shelter in 2012 than the year before.

Erie County reported Thursday that the number of homeless placements made by Social Services increased by 14 percent to 2,198 last year, with the fastest-growing segment of those seeking help from the county being families with children.

“We’re seeing more and more families that are coming in now,” said Karen Rybicki, assistant deputy commissioner for temporary assistance.

The number of homeless people helped by Social Services represents only a portion of the county’s overall homeless population. That is tracked by the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, which expects to issue its annual report later this spring.

That report is expected to show that the overall number of people who were homeless in Erie County remained relatively stable between 2011 and 2012 based on preliminary numbers, said Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York.

Zuchlewski said the increased number of people turning to the Department of Social Services for help last year may have been related to longer stays for people at some shelters. As that happens, there has been a decrease in the number of beds available, shifting the need to different providers, he said.

So far this year, Erie County’s Department of Social Services has made 518 placements of individuals or families in emergency shelters, including 148 families with children. The average length of stay for a family placed by Social Services in a shelter is 25 days, according to the county.

Advocates for the homeless have been concerned about a growing number of homeless families with children during the last few years, Zuchlewski said.

“Two of the highest need populations are our single males and single women with children,” Zuchlewski said. “There is a spike in homelessness for children under the age of 5, which is shocking. When people think of the homeless, they don’t think of a 5-year-old or a 4-year-old.”

email: djgee@buffnews.com