Asheville City Council received an update on the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness. The program is now in its eighth year. The public has a perception that homelessness has been increasing, but Heather Dillashaw, who now leads the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative, says the numbers are improving.
She posted point-in-time counts of the homeless. In the first year of the program, 2006, 134 homeless persons were counted on the streets of Asheville on a random night. In the counts for 2008, 2009, and 2010, the numbers ranged between 180 and 187. This year, only 75 were counted.
Dillashaw attributed the significant drop to a partnership forged between the Homeless Initiative and the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville. Years ago, Councilman Dr. Carl Mumpower had in more than one city council meeting advocated for utilizing vast amounts of vacant public housing for the homeless, rather than building fancy new apartments. The problem was, the units in public housing were boarded up due to uncontrolled vandalism and more serious safety concerns.
The opening of public housing has helped the city find housing eligible for subsidy. The average rent for a single-bedroom apartment in Asheville is $717. Fair market value is $617 including utilities. Dillashaw emphasized the gap because funding agencies will not provide vouchers for housing that costs more than FMV. She repeatedly commented on the “challenging” local housing market.
Working with the housing authority, the homeless initiative has been able to find homes for 461 people who would be on the streets. About 119 units are expected to turn over each year, either because people move into traditional housing or they fall through the system. Even so, hundreds of people are on a waiting list. The authority’s Deputy Director David Nash now chairs the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee.
Dillashaw wished to be clear about the distinction between chronic and episodic homelessness. Those who are temporarily down on their luck, which could be anybody caught by a crisis, might need a one-time infusion of cash. Often, the only thing separating a family from their home is something as simple as a single utility payment. Other services available from Rapid Re-Housing programs might include “short-term or medium-term rental assistance and housing relocation and stabilization services, including such activities as mediation, credit counseling, security or utility deposits, utility payments, moving cost assistance, and case management.” Homeward Bound of Asheville received $600,000 in stimulus funds for Rapid Re-Housing and Homelessness Prevention.
The chronic homeless are people who ride the proverbial revolving door. They are repeatedly admitted to prison and emergency rooms, taking advantage of public and private services. They are often dual-diagnosed; that is, they suffer a psychological problem that they self-medicate with alcohol or something from a roving street pharmacist. Often, the people cannot stay in housing because of their mental issues, but sometimes living a life on the streets drives one to substance abuse and mental illness.
To mitigate this, the homeless initiative, through its Housing Plus program, seeks not only to do the obvious by putting homeless people in housing, it seeks to keep them there. This is done by providing wraparound services, including “affordable healthcare, mental health, substance abuse services, employment and/or income supports, and childcare.”
Pisgah Legal Services’ SSI/SSDI Outreach Access Recovery (SOAR) program has provided services for 47 cases of homelessness, averaging $190,000 per case. When Councilman Cecil Bothwell questioned the amount, Dillashaw replied that the money was not an expenditure, per se, but it represented “resources that a case is bringing into the community.” In other words, it is “free money” from the federal government and other agencies that, once paid to providers, circulates in the community making everybody wealthier.
In the near future, Dillashaw is looking forward to a partnership with Mission Hospitals to provide respite beds for people discharged to homelessness. Normally, people picked up off the streets can be admitted to hospitals to get their meds stabilized, but once they’re discharged, they have nowhere to go but the streets again. In addition, the city will receive 35 more vouchers from a partnership of HUD and the US Department of Veterans Affairs; it is entering into an agreement with the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for housing for 165 of the more difficult cases, which tend not to stay in housing once placed; and it has been awarded an extra $50,000 Emergency Services Grant for, in Dillashaw’s words, “doing a good job.”
In other matters, council approved transferring management responsibilities for the Municipal Golf Course to Pope Golf, LLC. They also agreed to signing an interlocal agreement with Buncombe County to extend city water to the CTS site. The city would waive all fees the property owners would incur, and the county is pursuing a state grant to pay for installation of the lines.