Despite New Cases from 2015 Flood, Veteran, Chronic Homelessness Declines in Midlands
The October 2015 flood created new cases of homelessness in the Midlands of South Carolina. But despite that increase, the United Way of the Midlands has been able to shrink the number of homeless cases. This accomplishment, in part, is because of a national program called Built For Zero.
Built for Zero is coordinated by Community Solutions, the national effort supports participants in developing real time data on homelessness, optimizing local housing resources, tracking progress against monthly goals, and accelerating the spread of proven strategies.
According to its website, Roughly 84,000 Americans experience chronic homelessness on any given night. By definition, this means those individuals have been homeless for at least a year and suffer from a disabling health condition. The organization also states that roughly 40,000 veterans are also homeless.
Four communities so far have ended veteran homelessness, they include Rockford, IL, Arlington, VA, Montgomery County, MD, and Gulf Coast Region, MS. According a program fact sheet, at the end of 2015, more than 25,000 veterans and 15,000 chronically homeless Americans were housed by these participating communities.
In South Carolina, Jennifer Moore is Senior Director of Financial Stability Council for the United Way of the Midlands. In the above audio report, Moore said she is not sure if the Midlands will reach its goal by the end of this year. But the area has seen some successes, including developing a more robust outreach program, which has allowed them to find homeless people they weren't finding before.
"Through Zero, we've had much more intentional street outreach, not only from our VA street outreach workers but also from other social workers. [It's just been] a more intensive level of identification and coordination with each other."
That coordination is a key aspect of the program and has proven beneficial to the Midlands. Within the Built For Zero program, communities are successful in reaching a zero homeless population, if they can maintain functional zero.
"The functional definition that we define with the Zero process is that you house everybody who is homeless and if someone becomes newly homeless, you house those people too," Moore said. Despite new cases of homelessness stemming from the Flood, collaboration with partners have allowed them to help the newly homeless move back into permanent housing.
The United Way leads the Midlands Flood Recovery Group (MFRG), 45 local and national partners tasked with returning 90 families (displaced from the 2015 flood) back to their homes. Moore said the organization has anecdotal numbers on how many flood victims were added to the homeless population in the area, but does confirm that many clients they helped with rental deposits were displaced by the historic event.
"We saw folks that were in "double-up" situations. The family member or friend was able to get some modest help from FEMA to re-establish a new residence, but the folks who had "doubled-up" typically had barriers," she said.
Employment, income, credit or criminal issues can become barriers that hinder a person from finding permanent housing. In October, the United Way of the Midlands, Richland Library and the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless hosted the first Annual Breaking Barriers Employment Resource Fair. The event focused on helping individuals with barriers to employment. People who are disabled, homeless, have criminal backgrounds or lack transportation were able to meet with employers and community agencies.
Marsheika Martin is Senior Program Coordinator with the Work It Up job training scholarship program.
"Since the program started, we've had 400 applicants. We've had 200 to successfully complete the programs." Martin said students studying within the certificate nursing assistant, CDL, and manufacturing certification programs have all been employed.
The program is resented by the Eau Claire Development Corporation and TN Development Corporation, the grant-funded program is designed to help individuals gain training through the Midlands Technical College QuickJobs courses.