After teams of volunteers fanned out into the wooded areas of Fairfax County three mornings in late February to interview the county’s homeless residents, there was a lot of hope that this would be a turning point in the county’s effort to end homelessness.
This effort, the local kickoff of the 100,000 Homes campaign, has the ultimate goal of finding housing for chronically homeless people, often the most difficult segment of the homeless population to work with. “Registry Week” in February identified 467 individuals living in the woods or in their cars and gathered data on each individual’s needs.
Many of the volunteers who participated in Registry Week considered the event transformative.
About a month later, the U.S. Congress let some air out of the balloon when it allowed across-the-board federal spending cuts to go into effect.
Those spending cuts took away much-needed funding from Housing Choice Vouchers and other funding tools that the county and its partner nonprofits rely on to help people out of homelessness.
“A lot of us felt like we lost some of our steam and momentum,” said Amanda Andere, executive director of the nonprofit FACETS. “We have housed a few people, but without the support of vouchers … we’re going to be stalled for a while.”
Andere was on Capitol Hill Wednesday meeting with the local congressional delegation about the effects of sequestration.
Despite the funding challenges, a dozen people who were identified during Registry Week have been housed so far, said Dean Klein, director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.
In addition to the lack of funding, “these are the hardest-to-serve individuals,” he said. They can be resistant to housing, or have multiple conditions that make it more challenging to find them an appropriate placement.
“It requires such a coordinated effort for each person you house,” he said.
This fall, there will be 10 new studio apartments available at a renovated homeless shelter, Mondloch House, that will be reserved for chronically homeless people.
These units follow the “permanent supportive housing” model, which combines services with housing outside a shelter setting to help people get back on their feet. This model has an average 90 percent success rate of keeping people from returning to homelessness.
“It’s unbelievably exciting,” Klein said.
The Registry Week survey identified about 150 of the people interviewed as highly vulnerable and in need of services. Factors like chronic health conditions, mental illness and substance abuse factored into each person’s risk assessment. These assessments will be used to prioritize people for available housing.
Organizations also are not just waiting around for more federal funding to materialize. Faith communities and others in the private sector are stepping up to contribute their own resources to the cause, which has helped get people into housing.
Andere said that FACETS and the other county nonprofits involved in the 100,000 Homes campaign are still pressing ahead and trying to remain optimistic.
Although not all of them were people identified during Registry Week, FACETS has housed three times as many single homeless people this year as last year, she said. Klein said the initiative will keep plugging away, housing people one by one.
“We have increased attention and energy that we didn’t have before,” he said.