The 2018 Point-in-Time homeless count was recently released, and this year shows a slight decrease in Buncombe County’s homeless population from 562 people in 2017 to 554 people in 2018. In the city’s news release published June 25 [avl.mx/52w], they correctly attribute the decrease to the ongoing work of community partners who help those experiencing homelessness get into stable permanent housing, despite the shortage of affordable housing.
A recent study showed only one vacancy out of 3,315 affordable units in Buncombe County. With a 2016 poverty rate of 13.5 percent and many of our neighbors living one paycheck away from losing their home, it’s cause for celebration when the number of our neighbors experiencing homelessness decreases, if only minimally.
The [Point-in-Time] count represents only a 24-hour count of individuals sleeping in shelters, in their cars, on the streets or in transitional housing. While it lacks nuance, it does track our community’s progress toward its goal of ending homelessness. For instance, the number of chronically homeless individuals has decreased by 53 percent over the last 10 years.
Homeward Bound, the leading agency using the Housing First model, works to house those homeless for over a year who are also dealing with disabilities — mental and/or physical. Housing chronically homeless people saves our community millions of dollars a year in shelter, emergency medical and public safety costs. Homeward Bound has housed 1,950 individuals since 2006, and 89 percent have not returned to homelessness.
The reason for this extraordinary housing retention rate is Homeward Bound doesn’t just put people in homes and forget about them; we provide ongoing support called case management. This support can range from providing technical assistance, such as completing housing and employment applications, connecting with mental health and medical providers and teaching budgeting in order to pay bills on time, to providing real-life, hands-on assistance such as teaching how to set and achieve personal goals, guidance on basic household chores like doing laundry and grocery shopping, driving our clients to doctors’ appointments and comforting them when they become overwhelmed with the day-to-day struggle of managing their lives. Homeward Bound staff wraps our clients in the right level of support so that once they move inside, they are able to stay there.
Homeward Bound case managers refer our clients to organizations such as OnTrack WNC financial services, Pisgah Legal Services, Helpmate, Vaya Health and others that provide valuable resources for people experiencing homelessness. It takes a village or a community to end homelessness, but it begins with housing.
The Five Year Strategic Plan on homelessness adopted by the City Council and county [Board of Commissioners] last year lists seven priorities to address homelessness. The first two are housing and case management. With the continued support of the community and local government, and the services provided by Homeward Bound, an end to homelessness in Buncombe County is achievable.
— Mary Jo Powers
Homeward Bound of WNC