Number of homeless decreases, but more work needs to be done

Since 2010, we have reduced homelessness by 36 percent, even as our population has grown by 16 percent.
Since 2010, we have reduced homelessness by 36 percent, even as our population has grown by 16 percent.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Never confuse movement with action.” He reminds us of the difference between doing things we think will help and measurable success that produces real results. It is an important reminder as we consider the recently released 2016 Point-in-Time Count Report, which highlighted real progress made in efforts to end and prevent homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The Point-in-Time-Count is an annual count of people in our community who are homeless, whether on the streets or in a shelter. This year’s count shows we have reduced homelessness by 9 percent this year. Since 2010, we have reduced homelessness by 36 percent, even as our population has grown by 16 percent.

The Housing Advisory Board of Charlotte-Mecklenburg oversees the implementation of the community’s Ten-Year Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness. The plan focuses on three primary goals: 1. Getting homeless families and individuals into appropriate and safe permanent housing as soon as possible; 2. Linking chronic homeless to housing, treatment and services through intensive outreach and engagement, and 3. Promoting housing stability for those most at risk of becoming homeless.

Here is what we know about our success in recent years. Rapid re-housing produces results. Rapid re-housing accelerates homeless families’ move to housing and gives supportive services and a short-term rental subsidy to help them reach self-sufficiency. Since 2013, more agencies are using rapid re-housing, and we have seen a 42 percent reduction in homeless families.

For the chronically homeless, the best intervention is permanent supportive housing, which has reduced the number of chronically homeless by 39 percent since 2015. This strategy uses a rental subsidy and supportive services to help those who have been homeless with a disabling condition for more than a year to secure and maintain housing.

Finally, our collaborative efforts to end veteran homelessness have been successful. Homelessness among veterans is rare, brief and non-recurring due to our well-coordinated and efficient process. Since November 2014, we have housed over 378 veterans and have seen a 19 percent decrease in the homeless veteran population.

Our work is far from over. In the next year, we hope to see bigger declines in youth and family homelessness. We need to get the homeless out of shelters faster. And we must address the disproportionately high percentage of African Americans among our homeless population.

The Point-in-Time Count shows most of our community’s homeless are our own. Only 26 percent of them have moved from other communities in the last two years.

Our community must keep applying the same data-driven strategies as we have done in the past in order to close the gaps.

The data show what it takes to end homelessness. And we have the resources in our community to meet these challenges. We need to build more developments like Moore Place, the successful permanent supportive housing development, which has saved lives and saves the community money. And because we know we cannot build our way out of the need for more housing units, we need current landlords and property managers to work with us to help house some of our most vulnerable community members.

We are making progress. But for those in Charlotte-Mecklenburg who still lack access to safe and stable housing, our progress needs accelerating.

Joe Penner is the chairman of the Housing Advisory Board of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.