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Ending Homelessness: The VA Summit February 7, 2011

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The Charles George VA Medical Center and the Homeless Initiative hosted a summit on veteran homelessness this past Friday, February 4, 2011.

As we have mentioned in previous entries, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness made ending homelessness among veterans a key priority in Opening Doors, the strategic federal plan to end homelessness. In response, the VA produced a 5-Year Plan to end veteran homelessness.

The Charles George VA Medical center serves twenty counties in our local area, including Buncombe County, and is eager to implement the 5-Year Plan to end homelessness among veterans. To that end, on Friday, over forty individuals from the VA, community agencies and non-profits, and veterans experiencing homelessness came together at the Charles George VA Medical Center to discuss the 5-Year Plan and what it looks like in our community.

By partnering with the Homeless Initiative, the group was able to place an emphasis on synchronizing the objectives of Opening Doors, the Federal 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness with the objectives of the 5-Year Plan and to build on the successful partnerships and outcomes that have arisen from the implementation of Asheville-Buncombe’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

The Summit was an exciting an event, showcasing the wonderful spirit of collaboration that our community excels at and creating actionable ways for community partners to continue this collaboration moving forward.

Participants at the Summit broke into groups to discuss homelessness as it relates to the following strategic areas of focus:

  • Community Partnerships
  • Housing and Supportive Services
  • Employment Income and Benefits
  • Treatment, and
  • Homeless Prevention and Outreach.

As a result of the participation by a wide variety of agencies and individuals, the summit resulted in the identification of best practices, needs, and ways to strengthen the community’s response to homelessness among veterans.

The VA’s summit on homelessness provided a opportunity for us to come together and show how creative and effective we can be when we put our minds and experience together. As a result of the VA Summit, we are now on track for identifying the action steps necessary to meet the strategic areas of focus for the 5-Year Plan. To build on the momentum of Friday’s event, the Homeless Initiative is hosting a community-wide summit on homelessness. We’ll review action steps, identified during the VA Summit and broaden planning to include everyone in the community who is experiencing homelessness.

All community members interested in joining the efforts to end homelessness are welcome to attend, so mark your calendar now and we’ll update you on the details over the next few weeks!

Together we can, and do, make a difference!

Also! Check out this article on the VA Summit from the Citizen-Times!

Data Counts: 2011 Point in Time Count in the news! January 28, 2011

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Our annual Point in Time Count took place on January 26, 2011 and it was featured on WLOS! Check out the story by clicking the link below!

Asheville. NC :: Absolute Le – Homelessness By The Numbers.

Data Counts! The 2011 Point in Time Count January 25, 2011

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You may have heard that 600 individuals experience homelessness on any given night in our community. Have you ever wondered where that figure comes from?

This number reflects an estimate derived from the annual Point in Time Count. This year the count takes place on Wednesday, January 26th. Staff from homeless agencies, volunteers, and people who are experiencing homelessness will work together to count everyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness on the night of January 26th.

In addition to shelters and other housing programs, the Buncombe County Department of Social Services, Buncombe County Jail, police from Asheville, Montreat, Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Woodfin, and Weaverville, the Mission Hospital, the Charles George VA Medical Center, United Way’s 2-1-1, and agencies that provide crisis services to people in our community will help with the count.

Data collected during the count includes demographic information, causes of homelessness, where people are sleeping, and information about chronic homelessness, veteran status, and other subpopulation data. The count will include individuals and families staying outside, in shelters, and in other housing programs for people experiencing homelessness.

This year, the count will take extra care to include unaccompanied children and families, as well as people who are at risk of homelessness, including those experiencing:

  • Imminent Homelessness – An individual or family who is currently housed and is being evicted, asked to leave or needs to leave for another reason and who is expected to lose their housing within a week and lacks the resources to obtain or maintain housing.
  • Precarious Housing – An individual or family who is currently housed and is being evicted, asked to leave, or needs to leave for another reason and may or may not have the resources needed to obtain or maintain housing.

Asheville-Buncombe’s Point in Time Count is part of a national count. The Point in Time Count process will be used as the primary data source for federal agencies to understand homelessness trends and track progress against the goals and objectives contained in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness. Additionally, the Congressionally-mandated Annual Homeless Assessment Report is prepared using Point in Time and Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data.

Throughout the year, data is collected by agencies in Asheville-Buncombe using HMIS. Agencies with accurate and valid data in the system will be able to pull their Point in Time Count from HMIS. This is a significant step forward for our community because it means that data in the HMIS system is now sufficient for evaluation and reporting.

We place a lot of importance on data collection and for good reason! The 10-Year Plan depends on accurate, timely data to inform our decisions and help us understand how effective our actions have been. The Point in Time Count is one of several measures (we’ll be looking at these later on) our community uses to evaluate homelessness and evaluate trends that we can respond to.

We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the results of this year’s Point in Time Count!  And remember! Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Tips For Volunteers December 30, 2010

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This time of year brings special holidays that offer many people time for celebration and reflection. With the turn of the year, people often take time to stop and reflect on their lives – what they enjoy and what they’d like to change. As well, good experiences over the holidays and the realization that at the end of the celebrations, many people have a safe, warm place to call home can lead to a sense of re-commitment to those who are not as fortunate.

Perhaps this is why we get a lot of people contacting us here at the Homeless Initiative during the holidays asking how they can help. We are happy to say that there are hundreds of different opportunities for community members. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here is a creative list of what you could do to help those experiencing homelessness, developed by Earth Systems. Additionally, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has some great tips.

Volunteers have done everything from help serve a single meal to serving at Project Connect to joining a mentoring program with a team, helping a family settle into new housing and stabilize their lives. There is something for everyone and, often, the single most important things volunteers take away from the experience is the one-on-one connection made with a person experiencing homelessness. It is those human connections that again and again have birthed the most amazing actions and commitment that support housing and the people seeking it in our community.

To learn about volunteer opportunities: Contact United Way’s Hands On: http://www.handsonasheville.org. At this site you can search for local opportunities by agency, category or volunteer job to find your perfect fit.

If you know of an agency or type of agency that you’d like to contact, United Way’s 2-1-1 Community Information Line can help you get that agency’s contact information – just dial “211” on your phone or visit their online database: http://www.211wnc.org.

If you’re considering donating goods, be sure to call ahead to agencies to find out what they need and when the best time to donate is. If you’re planning on volunteering, here are some things to consider:

Know your strengths (and your limits).

Not all volunteer jobs are suited to everyone and that’s okay! Give some thought to where you think you could be most useful and chat with volunteer coordinators at different agencies to learn what opportunities exist. Your communication can help agencies offer better opportunities and can help you know more about what works for you!

Be open to new things!

It’s okay to be nervous, especially if you’re doing something totally new to you, and you might just discover that you love it! Being flexible not only helps the people you’re volunteering for, but it can teach you a lot about yourself.

Be consistent and considerate.

It takes a lot of effort to coordinate volunteer efforts and you can aid in the process by honoring your obligations by showing up on-time and with a positive attitude. Remember that the people you’re there to help are having a rough time and a smile from a stranger can mean a lot. It’s not always easy or elegant work, but it’s important work.

Lastly, be available!

Certainly the winter months pose significant challenges for people experiencing homelessness and the agencies serving them are glad that people want to help. But don’t forget that agencies need your help year-round. Their needs may shift slightly throughout the year and, by volunteering beyond the holiday season, you may find new volunteer opportunities that you adore!

You can make a difference now and you can make a difference year-round. Together we can end homelessness! To find the information detailed in this blog and more about volunteering and donating in our community, visit the Homeless Initiative website.

Today, we remember December 22, 2010

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Today we remember and join together to End Homelessness to honor

those who died while homeless in our community last year.

Jessey Aaron

Mike Anderson

Nolan Trent Baker

Mike Dashkevich

Roy Davis

James Deleza

Mick Everall

Jeff Grubb

Jeanine Guzalak

Rhonda Horton

Tami Leaven

Cristina Luther

Michael McColum

Colleen Overman

Lisa Pickens

John Seltz

Ricky Smith

D. Whitaker

Lee Allen Woody

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day: 12/21-12/22 December 16, 2010

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Join us in commemorating the lives of those who died while experiencing homelessness this year.

Our annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial observance will be held on December 21 through December 22 and will provide an opportunity for our community to grieve for those we lost in 2010 and to show support for people in Asheville-Buncombe who are currently experiencing homelessness as well as support for the agencies that work to end homelessness for all.

We will open our reflection on December 21st, the longest night of the year, with a candlelight vigil in Pritchard Park at 5PM.

  • The vigil will be led by the Church of the Advocate. Free tea and coffee will be provided by local vendors.
  • To show support, local businesses and neighbors will burn a candle or put a poster up for the night.  If you plan to do this, be sure to contact us and let us know!   The poster can be downloaded here.
  • UPDATE – Click HERE to read the Citizen Times article with photos about the vigil.

On December 22nd the Haywood Street Congregation will host reflection and a memorial.

  • The Haywood Street Church will open its doors and sanctuary at 9AM for reflection. There will be a free community lunch at 11:30 and a Memorial Services at 12:30 that will provide an opportunity for us to share our memories of those who passed on in 2010 and to honor their lives.  The Haywood St. Congregation is located at 297 Haywood Street at the corner of Haywood Street & Patton Ave. in Downtown Asheville.
  • Community members can donate coats, hats, jackets, and blankets for people experiencing homelessness at the church that day.

On any given night, over 500 individuals are without a home in our community. Those who experience homelessness are at a much greater risk of injury and death than their housed counterparts. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, those without housing are 3-4 times more likely to die prematurely than those with housing. The average age of death for those experiencing homelessness is around 50 years in contrast to the average of 78 years for the rest of the population. Deaths among those without housing are often the consequence of inadequate access to healthcare, hate crimes and exposure to harsh weather.

We hope you will join us in commemorating the lives of those who died while homeless in 2010.  So far, we have learned of 19 people who have died this past year. If you know of someone, please contact us so that we can read their name during the memorial.

There are still opportunities to volunteer and help with the service, if interested contact Katherine at  the Homeless Initiative (kmccrory@ashevillenc.gov)

Housing Matters: Youth Homelessness December 14, 2010

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This month in our blog we’ve defined homelessness, discussed Housing First, and looked at veteran homelessness. Today we’re going to take a look at youth homelessness.

As you will learn, youth homelessness has its own complexities and just one blog entry is not enough to address all the related issues, so we will revisit youth homelessness (as well as homelessness experienced by others) in later entries. In future posts, we’ll specifically look at the impact homelessness has on our community and the agencies and groups in Asheville and Buncombe County that work to address it.

Our partners at the National Alliance to End Homelessness have graciously allowed us to repost their informative interview on youth homelessness between Marisa Seitz and LaKesha Pope.  See below:
Marisa Seitz:  [For this blog post I’ll focus on the federal plan to end homelessness] objective eight: Advance health and housing stability for youth aging out of systems such as foster care and juvenile justice.
To learn about youth homelessness [in general, since it is a part of homelessness that goes unseen], I talked to LaKesha Pope, Senior Youth Policy and Program Analyst [at the National Alliance to End Homelessness].

Here are some of the questions I asked her and what I learned:

What causes youth homelessness?

Youth can become homeless for many different reasons, many of them the same factors that cause other groups to experience homelessness. However, the major factors that usually contribute to youth homelessness are family dysfunction and breakdown, specifically family conflict, abuse, and disruption. Many youth enter a state of homelessness as a result of:

  • Running away from home,
  • Being locked out or abandoned by their parents or guardians,
  • Running or being emancipated or discharged from institutional or other state care.

Another reason youth often become homeless is because of systems failure of mainstream programs like child welfare or juvenile corrections. These systems fail to address the needs of those leaving the programs, and consequently the youth end up homeless because they are not able to secure housing by themselves.

What does youth homelessness typically look like?

There are four general groups that homeless youth fall into, and it is possible for them to move between groups.

  • First-Time Runners – Youth in this group can usually be returned to their families or guardians.
  • Couch Surfers – Very hard to identify. They use their social networks to find couches of friends or relatives to sleep on for one night or longer.
  • Service Seekers- Those who seek shelter services, easier to identify since shelters are where counts are done. The most visible of homeless youth.
  • Street-Entrenched Youth – Youth who are on the street for six months or more.

There is no research to support the notion that homeless youths often come from homeless families.

Are there groups within the youth population that are particularly affected?

In urban settings, African-American youth are disproportionately represented, and in rural communities, Native American youth are disproportionately represented.

LGBTQ youths increasingly make up a portion of the homeless youth population as well, often due to parents or guardians kicking the youth out due to their orientation, or due to abuse at home for said orientation.

Why is it hard to count youth homelessness?

Homeless youths are particularly difficult to count because they can blend in well. They often appear as students in most public places. Many youths also don’t consider themselves homeless, such as those who couch surf.

Why do youths aging out of foster care and other systems tend to become homeless?

Poor discharge planning.

Youths “aging out” of systems are disconnected and do not have social networks to rely on for assistance in finding housing or employment. They lack self-sufficiency skills and can often be affected by an emotional condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Systems are also ineffective at checking to make sure pre-arranged housing accommodations stick.

This is the group the new federal plan hopes to end to targets specifically in an effort to end this problem.

How do we try and solve youth homelessness?

First, the same way we try and solve all types of homelessness: housing.

Beyond this, youth also need to be connected with adults that will help them, and given life skills development. One way to administer this is through youth housing continuum. To learn more about this and other applied solutions, take a look at our policy ad practice brief.

Marisa Seitz: These were just a few of the questions I asked, but already I could see a new side of the homeless population that needs to be addressed just as much as any other. If you want to know more, LaKesha gave me a great document that gives lots of information on youth homelessness. It’s a brief but illuminating read – four pages can tell you a lot of great information about youth homelessness. You can find it on our website, here.

If you have questions about youth homelessness or homelessness in general, or about the [National] Alliance [to End Homelessness], ask us at or formspring, where you can see the answers to your questions and many others. One of our goals is to help disseminate information about homelessness, so we are more than eager to answer any questions you might have.

Reposted from a the National Alliance To End Homelessness July, 8,2010 post.

A few last thoughts from the Homeless Initiative: If you have experience with youth homelessness and would like to share your experiences with us, we’d love to hear from you! You can find information on how to contact us by clicking here. More information about the Homeless Initiative is also available on our Facebook page.

Ending Homelessness – Veterans and the 5-Year Plan- UPDATED December 10, 2010

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As we have discussed previously, homelessness is the experience of being without stable housing and, as such, it affects an incredibly diverse range of people. This diversity necessitates a closer look so as to better understand issues and determine best-practices for ending homelessness. Today we’re going to look at homelessness among veterans.

Only 8% of the general population can claim veteran status yet veterans make up 1/5 of the homeless population in the United States. This means that homelessness among veterans is more than double the rate of homelessness among the general homeless population. The issues facing veterans are, in many ways, similar to those of non-veterans (lack of affordable housing, lack of a support system, not having a livable income or access to health care, etc). Veterans, however, are made more vulnerable to homelessness due to the physical and psychiatric disabilities that many face after active service. In Asheville-Buncombe during 2009, the regional VA served 457 veterans experiencing homelessness.

For many, it is unconscionable to allow men and women who have risked their lives for our country to be without a home and, in response, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has made ending homelessness among veterans a priority in “Opening Doors“, the federal strategic plan to end homelessness. As part of this federal partnership and strategic plan, the VA produced a 5-Year Plan to address homelessness among veterans and end it by 2014. VA Secretary Eric Shineski explains the plan this way: “If we want to end veteran homelessness, we must attack the entire downward spiral that ends in homelessness… We must offer education and jobs, treat depression and fight substance abuse, prevent suicides and provide safe housing.” The VA is focused on “the three P’s” – Prevention, Partnerships and Perseverance to stay the course along with community partners until the last veteran is off the street.

Through the 5-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the VA will expand existing programs and develop new initiatives to prevent veterans from entering into homelessness and to treat those who are currently homeless. This will be done by:

  • Increasing the number and variety of housing options including permanent, transitional, contracted, community-operated and VA-operated housing.
  • Providing more supportive services through partnerships to prevent homelessness, improve employability and increase independent living for veterans.
  • Improving access to VA and community based mental health, substance abuse and supportive services.

In response to this federal leadership, the Charles George VA Medical Center, which serves 20 counties in Western North Carolina, is currently implementing the plan using six key strategies listed in bold below, along with a few examples of resources offered to veterans in Asheville and Buncombe County:

  • Outreach & Education: A 24/7 hotline for those experiencing a housing crisis and/or in need of information about veteran services at 1.877.4AIDVET.
  • Treatment: The Homeless Veteran Dental Initiative which helps veterans involved in the Grant and Per Diem Program get the dental care they need.
  • Prevention: The Veteran Justice Outreach Initiative which is just getting started and will work with incarcerated veterans and veterans facing charges in court.
  • Housing & Supportive Services: The Charles George VA Medical Center has partnerships with the ABCCM Veteran’s Quarters and FIRST at Blue Ridge to offer transitional housing programs for veterans who are experiencing homelessness through the Grant and Per Diem Program. Also, the VA is moving towards the Housing First model with the HUD-VASH program which pairs housing vouchers and supportive services to offer permanent, supportive housing to veterans and their families.
  • Income/Employment: Compensated Work Therapy targets veterans experiencing chronic unemployment, homelessness and who are diagnosed with persistent alcohol and/or drug addiction.
  • Community Partnerships: The VA has representatives that take part in the Homeless Coalition in order to share information and promote data and resource sharing.

While the VA, The Veteran’s Quarter and its sister program, the Steadfast House, work specifically to address the unique needs of veterans experiencing homelessness in our community, there are many more organizations, faith groups and volunteers that work to support veterans in the Asheville-Buncombe community. During our conversation with Allison Bond of the VA, she noted that it is the community-wide support of veterans, people experiencing homelessness, the Homeless Coalition and the successful implementation of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness that has enabled the George Charles VA to implement its 5-Year Plan and to see such success with it in a short time-span.

To learn more about veterans experiencing homelessness or if you are a veteran without housing, contact Allison Bond at the VA Medical Center by calling (828).298.7911 ext 15506. You can also find more information on the VA Facebook page.

As always, you can learn more about homelessness in Asheville-Buncombe by visiting our website and our Facebook page.

CODE PURPLE: Shelters respond to severe cold December 9, 2010

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Area Shelters Enact CODE PURPLE and Offer Emergency   Cold Weather Services

In response to recent deadly winter weather, area shelters have come together to offer emergency cold weather services to people who are currently experiencing homelessness and would not otherwise have a safe, warm place to stay. To minimize risk to people in Asheville and Buncombe County, when the temperature falls below 32 degrees (or the equivalent with the wind chill factor) area shelters will designate a CODE PURPLE. Persons experiencing homelessness will have the opportunity to come inside and warm up during the day, even if a shelter would typically be closed. Extra floor, cot, and bed space will be available at overnight shelters to ensure that no one has to stay outside. Shelters are encouraging emergency workers and police to urge people outside at night to come inside.

Shelters offering CODE PURPLE services include:

A-Hope Day Center www.hbofa.org 19 North Ann Street, Asheville, NC 28801, 828.252.8883

On CODE PURPLE days, the A HOPE Day Center will open to everyone from 7 a.m. – Noon

ABCCM Veteran’s Quarters www.abccm.org/vets-place.html 1329 Tunnel Road Asheville, NC 28805, 828.299.8791

People seeking shelter can access the Veteran’s Quarters emergency shelter starting at 4 p.m.. The shelter will accommodate additional homeless individuals in our lobby and dining room areas.

Salvation Army, 204 Haywood Street, Asheville NC, 28801, 828.253.4723

The Salvation Army will offer their space for people to come inside and sit during the day.  People can come to the agency for overnight emergency shelter services starting at 4 p.m. The Salvation Army will offer overflow spaces through the use of cots, mats, and blankets.

Swannanoa Emergency Shelter Swannanoa Christian Ministry, 828.669.9404 or Bill Walker at 828.273.0025

Purple flags will be flown at First Baptist Church in Swannanoa, Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, and soon at Tolley Insurance in Swannanoa on days that the shelter is open. Guests are admitted to the volunteer-run, 16-bed shelter between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. with dinner being served at 6:30 p.m. Guests who arrive after 7:00 p.m. will only be admitted if they have made prior arrangements or if they are brought by law enforcement or a pastor from a local church. The shelter closes at 7:00 a.m.

Western Carolina Rescue Ministries www.westerncarolinarescue.org
225 Patton Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801, 828.254.1529

The agency will post a CODE PURPLE on the top right-hand corner of their website and post a CODE PURPLE indicator on the front door of the shelter each night that CODE PURPLE is in effect.  During CODE PURPLE, regular services are enhanced by extending the number of evening overflow spaces through the use of cots, mats and blankets, allowing clients to remain indoors throughout the day in our chapel, encouraging police, paramedics, and other agencies may bring people needing shelter after the normal “closed door” time of 6 p.m.

The above organizations and others in the community will be offering other services to assist persons experiencing homelessness throughout the cold winter months.

The CODE PURPLE effort stems from the collaborative work of the Homeless Coalition, which is a collective of agencies, faith groups, and individuals experiencing homelessness that works on an ongoing basis to address the needs of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.  Meetings are held on the first Tuesday of every month at 12:30. To learn more, contact co-chair Brian Alexander at brian@hbofa.org.

Housing Matters December 3, 2010

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Homelessness is a huge topic so when we talk about it, it’s not always easy to know where to begin. That doesn’t mean that having an honest and constructive dialogue about a big topic like homelessness needs to be confusing, threatening or overwhelming!

In fact, we’re happy to lead the way and start talking about the issues that matter. The Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative’s social media project offers us a great platform as we take an honest accessible look at housing stability and homelessness in our community and answer questions like:

  • What does housing stability mean to people?
  • What resources and solutions exist to address the varied aspects of a housing crisis in our community?
  • What are some outcomes of our efforts to end homelessness?
  • And, very importantly, how can people get involved?

To get started, over the coming month, we will delve into the experiences of mothers, fathers, siblings and children who have lived, worked and even fought for our country and who have experienced a housing crisis to better understand the impact of homelessness in the Asheville-Buncombe community. You’ll hear about successes and, sadly, you’ll also hear about the stories of people who have lost their lives while experiencing homelessness as we come together for the 2010 Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service.

Stay updated on upcoming Homeless Initiative events by checking our Facebook page, our Twitter feed and the Events page of our website.

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