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Sunday, April 28, 2013
In May 2010, Gov. Bob McDonnell signed Executive Order 10 for a housing policy framework that called for a focus on addressing the needs of homeless Virginians, in addition to housing and services for those with very low incomes. The Roanoke Valley hailed this effort and began to examine local efforts to determine how they fit into the state homeless prevention goals. The primary focus of the Roanoke Valley’s communitywide effort is to prevent homelessness and support rapid re-housing for individuals and families, the second of the five state goals.
The barriers to gaining and keeping appropriate housing have not changed. The economy is improving slowly. This is reflected in the number of well-educated people who are in the shelter system, the number of people who are unemployed and the number who are employed but at a wage that does not allow them to be self-sufficient. Many of those who experience homelessness over and over have alcohol, drug and mental health problems that are very difficult to address.
Whether at the brink of homelessness or recently trying to get back on their feet, many homeless and at-risk individuals and families find the road to accessing the proper resources can be a difficult one. Oftentimes, the very stressed and overwhelmed individual navigates many channels before finding the resources to meet specific needs. For the family weeks away from losing everything they own or the disabled man who will be sleeping outside if he doesn’t locate suitable shelter, this time is all too valuable.
The region is fortunate to have an excellent system of emergency housing and services. Transitional housing is available. However, maintaining a sufficient amount of quality, affordable permanent housing in areas with good public transportation and accessible resources continues to be a challenge. These problems are made more difficult to solve when one of the most successful strategies, intensive case management, continues to be underfunded.
Our success as a community is in working together to prevent homelessness. Three recent initiatives form the centerpiece of our community homeless prevention and rapid re-housing effort:
n In its third year, the Community Housing Resource Center with its partner agencies has created a service referral system through cooperation and sharing of information. It continues to positively affect housing stability by preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place. Links to services are made not only for potentially homeless in the immediate Roanoke Valley but in the outlying areas covered by the Blue Ridge Continuum of Care.
n Central Intake-One Door is a Blue Ridge Continuum of Care program funded through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development under the Homeless Solutions Grant and the city of Roanoke. The program is administered by Roanoke in partnership with the Blue Ridge Continuum of Care and is the first coordinated assessment program funded through the Virginia DHCD.
Central Intake-One Door assists families and individuals who are at imminent risk of becoming homeless with access to financial resources and referrals to obtain and/or maintain housing stability. This goal is accomplished by providing access to prevention, housing and other services they need. While it is not a comprehensive services agency, Central Intake-One Door serves as a point of referral for a broad variety of services and housing programs. Through a community education effort, the program provides information and referrals so that people know where to go to access services to address their specific needs.
The One Door approach provides basic client needs such as emergency funds, shelter referrals, bus tokens to be used for employment and housing searches, information, phone, food and clothing. Other needs such as counseling and substance abuse or medical needs are referred to collaborative community partners.
This front door-only system initially assesses the eligibility and needs of each individual or family so that appropriate services can be found efficiently and without duplication, to ensure scarce resources are available to the largest number of people possible.
n Local efforts to prevent homelessness and rapidly re-house people who are homeless have begun to consistently reward programs and agencies that work in collaboration rather than in silos. In line with this emphasis on collaboration, a partnership of Community Housing Resource Center, Family Promise, The Salvation Army and Trust House was formed that successfully expanded needed resources through reduced duplication and less complicated access to housing and services. The success of these agencies has inspired other potential initiatives for funding opportunities in the immediate future.
The Blue Ridge Continuum of Care and the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness have worked diligently to assure that scarce resources are efficiently and effectively used. Particular emphasis has been placed on rapid re-housing with future funding moving away from transitional housing services and to permanent housing solutions.
The goal is to quickly find permanent housing with appropriate case management to increase the chances that people experiencing homelessness will do so for a short length of time and never again. New local initiatives and an improving economy can only positively affect our efforts.
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