Agencies: Despite progress, defeating homelessness still a struggle
Local agencies that help the homeless are celebrating recent reports that show homelessness is down, while hoping that the community will still continue to support their efforts.
The Point-in-Time Count on January 30 found 82 chronically homeless individuals this year compared to 194 in 2005, which is a 58 percent drop. Chronic homelessness refers to someone with long-term or repeated homelessness with a disabling condition. The Point-in-Time Count tallies the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people on one night a year. The count, along with information from the Carolina Homeless Information Network, found a 40 percent decrease in overall homelessness between January 2011 and January 2013 in Forsyth County.
Though that’s good news, said Samaritan Ministries Assistant Director Willis Miller, there’s still a great demand for services. The night shelter Samaritan runs for men has seen some decrease in occupants, Miller said, but the agency’s soup kitchen, which serves the homeless and also many working poor local residents, has seen a lunchtime increase.
“We’re feeding more people than ever,” said Miller. “On any given day, we may feed between 450-500. We’re seeing new faces; I mean people we have never seen before in the kitchen: families, more people in wheelchairs. It’s been a diverse population of blacks, Hispanics and whites.”
Samaritan is at the end of a capital campaign that was launched to build a new facility at the corner of Northwest Boulevard and Ivy Avenue. The larger building will help to better accommodate the larger soup kitchen crowds, said Miller, who doesn’t expect the news of the dip in homelessness to have an adverse effect on the agency’s final capital campaign fundraising efforts.
Peggy Galloway, the executive director of the Bethesda Center, said she hopes the good news about the county’s shrinking homeless population does not lead the public into believing homeless is over or that agencies like Bethesda need any less support.
She said Bethesda, which runs a day and night shelter for men and women, has seen many of its funding sources cut, so community support is needed now more than ever.
“We made a dent (in lowering homelessness),” she said. “There’s still going to be people who are in and out of homelessness, so we still need to focus on that 42 percent and any new entries we see because of the economy. I hope that people continue to be very generous and that people continue to have an open heart.”
Bethesda has aided in the county’s homeless reduction efforts. Its case managers help homeless men and women find gainful employment and permanent housing. All Bethesda clients who were placed in housing last year are still housed, Galloway said.
“At Bethesda Center, our board is excited and we are excited, because we’re one of many agencies in the community trying to reduce or eliminate homelessness,” said Galloway. “With these numbers that were announced, that means we’re doing something right.”
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County is not alone in its push to end homelessness. Towns and cities across the nation are using housing programs to end homelessness as we know it. In 2006, the local Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness was launched. The plan is overseen by the city and the county, staffed by the United Way and has many partner agencies, including the N.C. Housing Foundation, Experiment in Self Reliance, Forsyth County Department of Social Services and Housing Authority of Winston-Salem.
Andrea Kurtz, who is the United Way’s senior director of housing strategies, is charged with implementing the plan, said that previously, the philosophy was that service providers had to fix whatever problems led to a person’s homelessness before getting them into housing. The Ten Year Plan, she said, changed that.
“The housing first philosophy really turns that on its head,” said Kurtz. “It says, ‘no, if someone loses their housing the first thing we need to do is get them in housing and then whatever challenges they have in their life, we will hook them up to services to serve them so they don’t lose their housing to it in the future.’ What research shows is that when you give those interventions to someone who is housed, they are much cheaper and much more effective.”
Under the local Ten Year Plan, 530 units of mostly permanent housing have been used to get people off the streets and out of shelters. Once placed in housing units, few have returned to a state of homelessness. Kurtz said the recidivism rate is below five percent.
While the number of chronically homeless has gone up and down since the Ten Year Plan was started, Kurtz believes the latest glowing reports are turning points and that the goal of eliminating chronic homelessness is achievable.
“What we’re celebrating is a pretty marked decrease, which is a sign that what we’re doing is working; but we’re not done yet,” she said.
The Ten Year Plan will soon open the Commons, a 50-plus unit property. It will house homeless families, those who are aging out of the foster care system and young people with autism spectrum disorders.