Monday, December 27, 2010

Attacking need from all angles:
The notion that society can accomplish any outsized goal may be unrealistic. “Full employment” never will be achieved, when only members of the workforce who really want a job have one. Polio is thought to have been eradicated, but there were two reported cases in the United States since 2005. There always will be someone who needs some form of help.
How then should one define the end of homelessness, and then accomplish that goal? Area nonprofit organizations are going to try.
The Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, a Sarasota-based not-for-profit organization, seeks to live up to its name by embarking on a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Sarasota County, where some 600 people each night — and 10,000 people each year — are counted as homeless. Meanwhile in Charlotte County, where, on average, 626 people are homeless each night, the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition seeks a similar plan to end homelessness in its region.
It won’t be easy, with the economic crisis still in full bloom in Southwest Florida, along with dwindling government and nonprofit agency budgets. So before embarking on their respective plans, both organizations are defining success.
“Different communities choose to attack the plan in a different way,” said Angela M. Hogan, executive director of the homeless coalition. “My goal is to be able to have enough programs and services available in Charlotte County so that every person that is homeless could participate in services, if they wanted to.”
Richard Martin, executive director of the Suncoast Partnership, says the goal — to have everyone housed — is idealistic. He tells people that ending homelessness means “ending it one family or one individual at a time.”
To ensure favorable results, both agencies are mobilizing others interested in the success of their 10-year plans. Cooperation among governments, the business community and nonprofit agencies may result in the more-efficient delivery of services to the homeless population.
Streamlining the process for helping people may be as much a goal of the 10-year plans as it is a tool for achieving the ultimate goal of ending homelessness.
“It might be a case of reallocation of the dollars,” Suncoast Partnership Board Chair Adam Tebrugge said. “If we are spending a large amount of money in our emergency rooms and in our jails to treat this population, maybe there is a smarter way to get people help that actually will save money over the long run.”
One of the focal points of these plans is that they not begin and end with agencies that have the word “homeless” in their names. For example, if Charlotte Behavioral Healthcare is serving the homeless population, it also should receive funds to be able to provide those services, Hogan said.
“Because we are the lead agency, we are the ‘Homeless Coalition’ and we are the direct service provider for all homeless services in Charlotte County, we have earned this reputation as being solely responsible for the homeless problem,” Hogan said. “At the same time, that discourages collaboration and that discourages other organizations from wanting to get involved. So to change that paradigm in Charlotte County is where we are right now.”
Seeking collaboration, but not wanting to lead the conversation, the Suncoast Partnership is starting its effort with a blank slate other than focusing on jobs/ employment, housing, public safety, homeless prevention and health and human services, Martin says.
For her part, Hogan says, “We’re going to evaluate what programs and services exist, identify gaps in those services and develop programs and services that meet those needs.”
Efforts to end homelessness have support from both the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties.
“Five years ago the notion of cities having 10-year plans to end homelessness was naive and risky. No one thought it was possible,” U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Philip Mangano said. “But the new research and new technologies have created such movement and innovation on this issue that it may now be naive and risky not to have such a plan.”
While Charlotte County Homeless Coalition officials are seeking advice from Lee and Collier counties on how to formulate their plan, Suncoast Partnership officials are looking at Manatee County for inspiration. Manatee County embarked on a 10-year-plan to end homelessness more than four years ago.
The Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness officials will conduct a community meeting for anyone who wants to be involved in its 10-year plan Feb. 5, 2011, in downtown Sarasota. They hope to unveil the plan in June of next year. The homeless coalition also will sponsor community workshops before unveiling its plan. Input from past and present homeless people will play a key role in both plans.
Samantha Sumner does not ponder the definition of homelessness, but she studies how to end it every day. Sumner, 33, her husband Scott, 40, and their children Jade, 12, and Hahna, 9, are living at the Homeless Coalition’s emergency shelter in Murdock — residents stay there for up to 60 days — while they try to restore their financial situation, after a yearlong struggle. Samantha is awaiting a hearing to address her disability issues, but the family’s hardship may be easing. Scott recently started a telemarketing job in Charlotte Harbor.
“We’re looking at renting again,” Samantha said.
They don’t have a car, so they’ll look for a home close enough to his job that Scott can ride a bicycle provided by Edgewater United Methodist Church’s bike ministry, Samantha said.
Meanwhile, there’s a help wanted sign in the window of Basia’s Food Mart on El Jobean Road, a short bike ride from the shelter.

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