Columbus part of national effort to end veteran, chronic homelessness

A Columbus-based organization combatting homelessness has been selected for a national campaign designed to end veteran and chronic homelessness in the next two years.

Home for Good, which operates out of the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley, was selected for Zero: 2016 by the national nonprofit, Community Solutions, it was announced Monday by Home for Good Executive Director Christie L. Bevis.

There were 67 communities across the country selected and Columbus/Russell County is the only one in Alabama or Georgia.

“I think this is the kick in the pants we need to get us there,” Bevis said. “It helps mobilize us and gives us the tools we need to take this to the next level.”

Home for Good has been operating for about two years and was formed out of a task force that developed a 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness in Columbus.

There are about 1,500 homeless in the Columbus area, according to Home for Good. There were 227 chronically homeless in Columbus last year served by the Homeless Resource Network, according to data used by local providers. That includes about 127 who are military veterans.

The initiative will launch in January. Home for Good will join with the other communities and coordinate local efforts to walk their streets block by block to survey each of their homeless neighbors during the national 2015 Homeless Point-in-Time Count, according to a Community Solutions news release.

Home for Good will collaborate with local agencies and organizations to develop files on each person experiencing homelessness on their streets. The strategy is designed to help connect people to available subsidies and appropriate housing options as quickly as possible.

The city of Columbus, Housing Authority of Columbus, Phenix City Housing Authority, Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley, United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley, Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, New Horizons Behavioral Health and the Continuum of Care have committed to the project, according to Bevis. The Continuum of Care includes the Homeless Resource Network.

While the project does not come with a specific cash allotment, it offers the support that has been needed to unify a community-wide effort to combat homelessness, Bevis said.

Home for Good and the other participating communities will seek to accelerate their housing efforts through four key areas of work:

Closing the research-to-practice gap.

Real-time data and performance management.

Prioritizing housing placement for veterans and chronically homeless.

Local leadership development and capacity building.

Community Solutions will provide hands-on coaching and data tools, and will curate a national peer-to-peer learning network to accelerate innovation across communities.

“This gives us the training and support systems to integrate best practices,” Bevis said. “It will also give us access to what the other communities in Zero: 2016 are doing.”

It will also give those agencies trying to assist the homeless needed and accurate data, Bevis said.

“We are now at the point of ‘how,’” Bevis said. “We are no longer at ‘if,’ but we are now seeing how we will do it. Zero: 2016 is a catalyst that will get us there. Is this going to be hard? Oh, yeah. But this is what we need right now.”

Chronic and Veteran homelessness are urgent, solvable problems, said Beth Sandor, Director of Zero: 2016 for Community Solutions.

“These communities represent a potential tipping point,” Sandor said. “If they can show that getting to zero is possible, we think it will become untenable for other communities not to follow suit. Zero: 2016 is about bringing shared accountability to this work. Participants are making a public commitment to get to zero on time, and they will use that commitment to drive measurable progress.”