Homeless Initiative partnerships help get people into homes

Recently reported numbers show that, in 2010, 65 people experiencing homelessness in Buncombe County were placed in, or were in the application process for, permanent housing, reports Amy Sawyer, coordinator of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.

That, Sawyer says, represents successful progress in advancing the Homeless Initiative and the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness endorsed in 2005 by Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners. The 10-year Plan to End Homelessness operates on the Housing First model, where people experiencing homelessness receive financial assistance and supportive services needed to access housing, and preventative steps are taken to address families and individuals who may be at risk of losing their homes.

The news comes as a result of the work and collaboration of the Chronic Homelessness Partnership, formed by the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee in 2009 to respond to the idea that using evidence-based practices to focus attention on those who regularly need the assistance of costly emergency services can go a long way toward addressing area homelessness.

The partnership, led by the Advisory Committee, made up of the Buncombe County Human Services Team, the Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the City of Asheville Housing Authority, the City of Asheville, Homeward Bound and Western Highlands.

“In just over a year, this group has knitted together existing resources in order to help some of the hardest to reach people access permanent, supportive housing,” Sawyer says.

Additionally, the Asheville Police Department, with the assistance of the City of Asheville’s Community Relations division, has placed additional focus on the effort to identify likely candidates for housing by assigning officers to facilitate communication with partners in this collaboration effort. Like the above agencies involved in the Chronic Homeless Partnership, APD officers can share important details about people who are using the greatest amount of services and are most in need of housing stability.

The combined effort, Sawyer says, is unprecedented in the region and means more sharing of information across disciplines and more effective delivery of services while avoiding redundancies, ultimately resulting in a reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

“You really can’t overstate what this kind of collaboration means in the effort to get people into housing,” Sawyer says. “Everyone has to be tuned in and able to communicate in order to identify those who most need assistance.”

To pursue its mission, the partnership team reviews potential clients brought to the table by each member. Selected participants are invited to join the project and, if they agree, work with housing case managers to apply for a housing subsidy through the Housing Authority and/or access other rental assistance provided through grants from the City of Asheville and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

House managers continue to work with clients after the move in to connect them with services like job and financial counseling, child care, veterans services or even treatment for mental health and addiction to ensure long-term housing stability. For people entering the program, access to these supports is vital. So far, the over 90% of people entering the program have maintained their housing.

Sawyer reports that, in 2010, 46 people moved into a mixture of public, voucher and other forms of housing. Another 19 were in some stage of the application process. A Point in Time Count at the beginning of 2010 indicated that, with the help of other housing programs in the community, 305 people were in permanent supportive housing.

Click here for more information on the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.