The key factor in ending chronic homelessness is the full commitment of collaborative partners, according to two leaders whose communities have seen the end of chronic and veteran homelessness.
Representatives from Bergen County, New Jersey, and Gulfport, Mississippi, joined Funders Together to End Homelessness for a webinar last week to discuss the essential lessons that came from their initiatives to end homelessness for veterans and the chronically homeless. Angela D’Orazio, program officer at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, followed the discussion with her perspective on how funders can support these initiatives.
Bergen County sits just across the Hudson River from Manhattan and is New Jersey’s most populous county. In April 2016, it became the first community in the country to effectively end chronic homelessness. Because of a partnership between the county and its housing authority, it has held onto this “functional zero” for almost two years.
In Gulfport, a large amount of veterans were being discharged from the area’s VA hospital and needed to stay in town for outpatient care. Many of these vets had no permanent home, and the population of homeless veterans along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast continued to grow. Led by Mary Simons, Open Doors Homeless Coalition convened partners to find permanent housing for these vets. Gulfport now has reached functional zero for its veteran homeless population, and is working on eliminating chronic homelessness by 2020.
Both of these success stories used the Housing First platform, convening essential stakeholders and community partners to contribute their talents and expertise to securing permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.
Julia Orlando, director of The Bergen County Housing, Health and Human (HHH) Service Center, talked about the county’s partnership with the Housing Authority of Bergen County to prioritize homeless individuals in its administrative plan. Together, the county and HABC established the HHH Center, which offered temporary shelter and housing placement, as well as a continuum of care that included local service organizations focused on helping to stabilize, house and support homeless individuals.
“Everyone plays a role in the success of getting people into permanent housing,” said Orlando. “We especially have learned to utilize community members to help us.” She and her team hold quarterly meetings with all stakeholders, including local residents, church members and the business community.
“No one organization can achieve these ambitious goals alone,” said Simons. “We all have to be willing to get out of our silos and pool ideas and resources.”
As a funder, D’Orazio said that sharing ideas and resources is especially important to long-lasting impact.
“The Sisters of Charity Foundation’s role in helping to convene the Housing First initiative was to drive the conversation away from disparate programs and services and toward a unified strategy to end chronic homelessness,” she said. “Thought leaders and community partners must work in lockstep to create systems change – that’s where our investment will be most successful.”
In Cuyahoga County, the Housing First initiative links decent, safe, affordable housing with on-site flexible, voluntary support services designed to help an individual stay housed and live a more productive life in the community. The initiative has reduced long-term homelessness in Cuyahoga County by 86 percent during the past 10 years and is on pace to end long-term homelessness in the county by 2020.
“Collaboration doesn’t always happen easily; you need to have a partner who will hold the collective vision and continually nurture the collaboration and align resources to achieve that vision,” D’Orazio said. “Sisters of Charity Foundation invested in Enterprise Community Partners to bring all the right people to the table. The diversity of funders – corporate partners, public partners, as well as the city and county – helped to make a real difference.”