In Case You Missed It: NowKalamazoo took an in-depth look into the Kalamazoo County homelessness crisis in a Nov. 2019 special edition called The Homefront. Since the crisis continues, we are republishing the articles below. Click on the picture of the cover to read a digital version of the magazine.
We Can Do It, Too
NowKalamazoo explored the homelessness crisis in Kalamazoo County in the Nov. 2019 special publication The Homefront.
Homelessness can seem daunting, frustrating, overwhelming and Kalamazoo isn’t the first community to feel that way. We also won’t be the first to change it, which makes it a bit easier.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness says four communities in the country have ended chronic homelessness, and nearly 80 have ended veteran homelessness.
Located southwest of the Twin Cities, the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care (SWCC) is a collaborative organization that serves 18 rural counties and earlier this year was certified by the federal government as having eliminated chronic homelessness. The Marshall Independent reported a coalition of area agencies were on the same page with a “housing first” strategy. “It used to be ‘Get your life together and then we’ll help you get housing,’” says the organization’s Justin Vorbach. He says a number of entities collaborated to achieve the goal, which required quick turnarounds from identifying a person’s or family’s needs to connecting those individuals with housing and services. Angela Larson of the United Community Action Partnership, one of the collaborators, says working together allowed SWCC to stretch limited funds to be spent smarter.
“You can see the success in reduced health care costs, fewer visits to the emergency room, better attendance at school,” she says.
In 2018, Rockford became the first city to end homelessness of military veterans and the second to eliminate chronic homelessness. It did so by creating a nexus of services for homeless people funneled to the same location where homeless people applied for those services. This was complemented by tracking and other data collection in order to make best use of limited funds, ensure service providers and policy makers knew what was needed and infused it all with a goal of equity.
“In the past, our community didn’t have a single point of entry and homeless people tried to enter into whatever program where they knocked on the door,” Jennifer Jaeger, Rockford community services director, told the Rockford Register Star.
“There was no coordination and no level playing field. Agencies could pick and choose who they wanted to work with and house. Now it is all leveled. People get ranked according to severity of needs. Those with the most need get housed first.”
Kent County, Mich.
In 2017, Kalamazoo’s big neighbor to the north was certified as having eliminated homelessness for U.S. military veterans. To do so, it created and executed a vision to identify all homeless veterans; provide shelter immediately, provide services and transitional housing assistance and be prepared to step in if another veteran becomes homeless.
“It took a team of dedicated, caring community members to rearrange structures and resources so that Kent County can ensure that no veteran will remain homeless in our community,” says Vera Beech, Executive Director of Community Rebuilders, one of the agencies involved, according to a Kent County statement.
Bergen County, N.J.
Bergen County, located across the Hudson River from New York City, is considered the first community in the country to achieve the goal of ending chronic homelessness, which it did in 2017. Julia Orlando, director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center, told NPR’s Here & Now that “a turning point in our work” was creating the center as a single location for meals, housing, and services, “rather than having to have them transverse through the entire county of Bergen.” There were obstacles, especially getting a critical mass of the community and leadership on board. To do so, Orlando and her team worked with landlords to make them more open to permanent housing options; fast-tracked services when needed such as in cases of youth homeless; and once data was gathered, updated and utilized, created a county trust fund to cover the known costs.
“I think the key to Bergen County is our collaboration. It’s working with all of our partners together where everyone has the same goal,” she says.