North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Homeless survey also notes who is nearly homeless

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
by Jennifer Fernandez
Staff Writer 
GREENSBORO — Every year, volunteers comb shelters, wooded areas and abandoned buildings as part of the annual “point-in-time” count of the homeless.
The survey, which takes place today, will include for the first time a count of those who are considered “precariously housed” or “imminently homeless” in Greensboro. Officials handling High Point’s count said they are not adding the optional category to their survey this year.
Housing experts suspect a growing number of families straddle a fine line between stability and homelessness. They hope the survey will provide a better picture of what is happening.
“Part of it is with the economic situation getting worse, we know that there are a lot more people losing their housing than there used to be or about to lose housing,” said Beth McKee-Huger, executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition. “And we’ve never been able to quantify that.”
For purposes of the survey, “precariously housed” means someone who might become homeless within the next 30 days. “Imminently homeless” counts anyone who might become homeless within the next seven days.
Organizers will send the data to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the traditional homeless count. The data on homelessness has been used to dole out federal funding for assistance programs.
“It can give a better understanding of the breadth of the larger, affordable housing crisis that this state faces,” said Martha Are, a policy analyst with the N.C. Office of Economic Recovery and Investment. She oversees the state’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, funded by $29 million in federal stimulus funding.
She doubts the data will be used for funding because of the possibility of inconsistency in the definition.
Still, the information can help shape programming, such as the homeless prevention programs paid for with federal stimulus dollars.
In all, Guilford County received nearly $2.3 million to use over three years.
The money can be used to help the homeless find housing or to pay back rent, mortgage and utilities to keep people from losing their homes.
Most Tar Heel agencies that received the money focused on prevention, Are said.
The Greensboro Housing Coalition has used part of the city’s $781,141 allocation to help 21 families so far, McKee-Huger said. The money has helped pay rent and utilities, giving families a chance to get back on track, she said. Four families recovered and moved out of the program.
The waiting list contains another 30 requests for help, McKee-Huger said.
Several studies show that supportive housing programs cost less than providing services to the homeless, Are said. She couldn’t cite similar research on the costs associated with preventing homelessness, but she said it’s not a difficult leap to see the benefits.
“Whether you care about the human side of it or the tax dollar side of it, it’s a good investment of resources,” Are said. 
[This article originally appeared on the News & Record website.]
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