From the Asheville Citizen-Times Newspaper:
David Nash, GUEST COLUMNIST 9:39 a.m. EDT May 27, 2016
The May 23 Citizen-Times article about the 10-Year plan to end homelessness took some shots at low-hanging fruit but missed the big picture and, in so doing, dismissed the work of many dedicated agency staff, peer counselors and volunteers in our community.
First, it is fair to acknowledge that the institution of homelessness was not ended because of a 10-year plan. Like other aspirational federal goals from the time (ask a teacher about “No Child Left Behind”), it is easy to diminish purpose and progress by focusing on the lack of literal success in meeting the aspiration.
Truthfully, people will experience episodes of homelessness until we decide as a nation to build an economy that does not depend on both low wages and high housing costs and to provide mental health treatment for everyone who needs it. The value of focusing on ending homelessness, rather than managing it in dormitory-style emergency shelters, is clarity about actions needed to end homelessness for specific people. For a homeless person, the solution to homelessness is a home. This is reflected in the companion principle to ending homelessness, Housing First, which focuses on providing supports to secure permanent housing early and without preconditions. The homeless person then has a stable place to work on other issues, whether simply economic or complex treatment-related concerns. Housing supports range from quick assistance with startup costs to move into a rental unit, to long-term permanent supportive housing for the most vulnerable. The essential step for Housing First is moving quickly to a permanent housing solution. So with that focus, here are some highlights of accomplishments over the last 10 years (largely overlooked in the article, though the information was provided), starting with goals from the plan:
• Goal: No homeless people living on the streets or in camps. The number of unsheltered homeless people in the annual point in time count is not literally down to zero, but it has been reduced by 60 percent, from a high of 187 in 2007, to 72 in 2016. Significantly, the count has found no unsheltered families with children since 2008.
•Goal: Sharply reduced number of dormitory-style emergency shelter beds. Homeward Bound (formerly Hospitality House) closed all of its shelters. ABCCM closed its 80-bed dormitory downtown and moved to the Veterans Restoration Quarters in Oteen, which is a non-dormitory transitional housing program. The Rescue Mission and Salvation Army still have dormitory-style shelters, and even there, almost all residents are now enrolled in supportive service programs.
•Goal: Hundreds of formerly homeless individuals and families living independently with varying levels of support services. Homeward Bound has placed more than 1,100 formerly homeless people in permanent housing, with an 89 percent success rate. Asheville Housing Authority has placed more than 900 people, in collaboration with the VA, Homeward Bound, Helpmate and other agencies, with an 84 percent average success rate. Most of these placements were chronic homeless people – in some cases, people who had lived on the streets of Asheville for decades.
•Goal: Multiple entry points into a system with coordinated services for people who become homeless or need help to prevent homelessness. We have multiple entry points, and more importantly, a robust coordinated assessment system. Each homeless person/family receives a vulnerability assessment and is assigned to an agency that can provide services consistent with their needs, ranging from counseling or rapid re-housing with modest financial assistance to permanent supportive housing with long term services.
•Goal: Measurably reduced burden on courts, police, jail, EMS, and emergency rooms. Although we should have done more before/after measurement, as a result of the 10-year plan, there are now “frequent utilization” groups meeting monthly at the jail and hospital to develop housing and service strategies for those homeless people who are most often incarcerated or hospitalized, in a concerted effort to reduce those costs.
As we shift to our next strategic plan, the plan’s title may or may not be more practical, but the 10-year plan to end homelessness is a cornerstone on which we have built and will expand a network that transforms lives. We will carry on with the mission, ending homelessness for people every day.
David Nash is the chief operations officer of the Asheville Housing Authority and chair of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee, a collaborative group of agency staff and local citizens appointed by the city and county to help implement the 10-year plan.