Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Early in his administration, Gov. Bob McDonnell identified housing and homelessness as priorities for his administration. To address the issue of homelessness, the governor appointed senior economic advisor Bob Sledd to lead the effort with the strong support and involvement of Dr. William Hazel Jr., secretary of health and human resources.
An advisory committee was convened the summer of 2010, and over the span of about four months was given the task to develop a plan that would outline strategies to leverage state resources more effectively, maximize the effectiveness of state services and resources for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness, and realize efficiencies through enhanced coordination and shared resources among state agencies.
In November 2010, the Homeless Outcomes Advisory Committee released a report identifying five primary goals with the overarching goal of reducing homelessness by 15 percent by the end of 2013 — an ambitious goal, especially when the commonwealth, like the rest of the country, was in the midst of the most challenging economic period since the Great Depression.
The advisory committee was comprised of representatives from state agencies across several secretariats, such as commerce and trade, health and human resources, public safety, and veterans affairs and homeland security. In addition, several nonprofit organizations representing the geographic diversity of the state were represented. The cross-section of participation was a key element to ensuring all stakeholders had opportunities for input into a plan addressing an issue that impacts many individuals, families and communities.
The primary goals of the report included increasing the number of permanent supportive housing units in the commonwealth; increasing flexibility in funding to prevent homelessness and support rapid re-housing efforts; increasing statewide data collection and system coordination; increasing access to substance abuse and mental health treatment; and evaluating, developing and ensuring implementation of statewide, pre-discharge policies for a variety of institutions such as hospitals, mental health institutions, prisons, jails and the foster care system.
The timing of the Virginia Homeless Outcomes Initiative was fortuitous, as changes to the homeless assistance system were also occurring at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had begun shifting emphasis away from the traditional approach to serving those experiencing homelessness — providing emergency shelter, transitional shelter and then permanent housing — to a rapid re-housing approach that focuses on getting individuals and families housed first, then providing needed services to ensure the housing can be effectively maintained.
One of the first actions taken after the release of the Homeless Outcomes Advisory Committee Report was the shift of some of the homeless assistance funds that flow through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development from transitional shelter services to rapid re-housing services.
The alignment of efforts at the state and the federal level strengthened the likelihood that the transformation of the homeless assistance system would be effective and lasting, as funding from both levels could be combined at the local level, resulting in better outcomes for those experiencing homelessness, as well as better outcomes for communities. This shift in practice and resources could not be successful without preparing communities and service providers.
Change can be difficult, even threatening, for those who have invested years in addressing homelessness in the same way, using the same interventions. Some service providers have refused to change their approach. Others have been eager to implement rapid re-housing but needed assistance to do so.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness, the commonwealth of Virginia and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness partnered to apply for a Freddie Mac Foundation grant to focus on reducing family homelessness in Virginia. One of the strategies employed within the grant was building the capacity of service providers in the homeless assistance system, specifically providing training and technical assistance on how to develop rapid re-housing services or incorporate those services into existing shelter or financial assistance programs.
Many communities across the state have embraced this change. In the Roanoke region, the homeless assistance service providers have been working together for several years to transform the homeless assistance system.
In the past, service providers would compete with one another for state and federal funds. Now, through the leadership of the city of Roanoke, the service providers are collaborating on grants and identifying specific roles each agency will play, resulting in a reduction in the duplication of services and in increased funding coming to the community because state, federal and private funding bodies recognize their investments will go much further when service providers work together on shared community outcomes.
The alignment of efforts on the federal, state and local levels is producing results. From 2010 to 2012, the rate of homelessness overall in the commonwealth has been reduced by 7.22 percent.
While preliminary results of statewide data collected through the annual point in time count for 2013 is not yet available, early indications are that several communities are seeing additional reductions in the rate of homelessness — leaving one to believe that when the stars align, even the most challenging of issues can be effectively addressed.
Weather JournalRain is here; no snow