Regional Approach to Eliminating Homelessness Proven Successful

Started in 2003 the seven-county and City of Atlanta alliance known as the Regional Commission on Homelessness (RCOH) has not solved all the problems but it has a coordinated successful plan. Jack Hardin, a RCOH board member, recently offered an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that captures the essence of the RCOH’s Plan to Eliminate Chronic Homelessness in metro Atlanta. The organization’s accomplishments are possible because of the hard work and caring efforts of dozens of organizations, local governments and hundreds of caring people. If you want to help in eliminating homelessness in the metro area, please contact United Way of Metro Atlanta at www.unitedwayatlanta.org

We seek to end homelessness
With support from United Way this community effort has created more than 2,400 supportive housing units, 400 units of family supportive housing, the Gateway Center and many effective partnerships that constitute a continuum of care.

Initially, the regional commission proposed a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as an individual with a disability who has been homeless for a year or more. Our strategy is to close the front door to homelessness by preventing evictions and foreclosures open a back door by ushering individuals into supportive and affordable housing, and complete a continuum of care. We focus on “housing first,” then work toward self-sufficiency, job training, substance abuse and mental health treatment. We seek to end homelessness, not to just shelter and feed the homeless.

We are working with community partners to be innovative and to accomplish more with less in this tough economy. As the poverty rate continues to climb in Georgia — in 2010 it was at 18.7 percent compared to a national average of 15.1 — the regional commission is working diligently to improve the odds for families and individuals to prevent homelessness and offer them options if they find themselves on the streets. The commission’s Street to Home program takes outreach workers and volunteers to the streets and under bridges in early morning hours to encourage homeless men and women to leave the streets immediately for a chance to enter programs aimed at ending their homelessness for good. About 75 percent of the individuals who agree leave the streets permanently.

In October, we announced Project RESPECT through which we offer to employ the Street to Home strategy to help the residents at the troubled Peachtree-Pine shelter. It may surprise some that we have to persuade individuals to leave the streets, but we do. Many living on the street or in shelters have learned to cope with that environment and are fearful of change. Others are reluctant to deal with substance dependencies. Only by building trust are outreach workers able to succeed.

Rockdale resident Yulonda Calhoun is a good example. Calhoun went from sleeping in her car with her two teenage children to case management and success. Through community support, she now has her own apartment and job, using her success story to encourage homeless single mothers to work toward a path to self-sufficiency.
That’s what we are about at the Regional Commission on Homelessness: working together as a community, building hope and removing barriers for homeless men, women and children.

Jack Hardin is an attorney and co-chairman of the United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness.
http://www.ajc.com/opinion/we-seek-to-end-1240941.html

Hardin’s previous Blogging While Blue post on homelessness: http://www.bloggingwhileblue.com/2011/10/does-poverty-threaten-georgias-future.html