If you’ve paid any attention to the local news since yesterday [January 6, 2015] , you’ve heard the announcement that chronic homelessness will be solved in our community by December 31, 2016!
The Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg Ending Chronic Homelessness in 2016 initiative is now underway. A lot of conversations and planning have taken place over the past 18 months and I, for one, am proud that our community’s leadership – government, civic, nonprofit, faith, etc. – have finally drawn a line in the sand and said enough, our most vulnerable citizens deserve better! To learn more about the plan itself, I encourage you to go to the initiative’s website HousingFirstCharMeck.org.
The Men’s Shelter of Charlotte (MSC) is one of many homeless services agencies serving people in our community who are experiencing homelessness and are considered chronically homeless (meaning they’ve been homeless often or for an extended period of time and they have an disabling condition, often mental illness). In fact, MSC provides safe shelter and supportive services to about 200 chronically homeless men each year. In FY2013-2014, 24% of the men MSC moved into more appropriate housing were chronically homeless – that’s over 100 chronically men who moved out of the shelter in just one year! So far in FY2014-2015, about 20% of the moves to more appropriate housing at MSC are with chronically homeless men. At MSC, we know first hand how this Housing First initiative can, and will, work to end chronic homelessness in our community. Housing First Charlotte-Mecklenburg aligns well with MSC’s mission to end homelessness for each man we serve. That’s why we’re excited about the plan and actively engaged to help the initiative succeed.
By declaring a date certain to end chronic homelessness, our community leaders have endorsed a solid plan that will work with everyone’s commitment. I was proud to stand with so many colleagues and community leaders yesterday as the plan was announced. I’m grateful for Mayor Clodfelter and County Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller for fully committing our local governments to make this plan succeed. I’m grateful to hear my colleague Fulton Meachum, CEO of the Charlotte Housing Authority, once again publically declare that homelessness would continue to be a preference for access to public housing. I’m proud of my colleague Dale Mullenix, from the Urban Ministry Center, for committing his agency to manage this project. Our business community, especially Bank of America and Wells Fargo, are to be commended for rallying the business sector around this plan. And last, but far from least, much credit goes to Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners. Michael is the mastermind who quietly pulled everyone together and insisted we create a bold approach to solve the problem of chronic homelessness, first for those most vulnerable citizens who need our help, and then as another way to make our community a vibrant place in which to work and live.
The clock is now ticking and there is much work to be done. We will end chronic homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg by the end of 2016. But that’s not the end of the story. We will then complete the work of ending homelessness for all in our community. MSC will certainly play it’s part. In addition to our stated mission of ending homelessness for each man, our agency’s vision to realize an end to homelessness in our community through fostering systemic change. Yesterday we all witnessed a seismic shift in our systemic approach to solving homelessness that will prove that, collectively, this community can realize an end to homelessness for all!
Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting down with my colleague and friend Carol Hardison to sign a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and Crisis Assistance Ministry. Our agencies work together all the time helping people with basic needs like shelter and clothing, connecting them to emergency financial assistance for utilities, and moving them into their new home.
So if our staffs are already collaborating, why sign an MOU?
To Carol and me it’s pretty simple; collaborating is a two-way street with the ultimate purpose of helping those our agencies exist to assist. By writing down our purpose and partnerships plans – what we’re going to do together and why – we’re committing publically to each other. We’re holding each other up as equal partners. We’re demonstrating to our staffs, clients, boards, volunteers, and the community that we’re working together, allowing each other to do what we do best, for the benefit of citizens in our community who need our help. Collaboration means we’re acknowledging our dependence on each other for success for our clients and, therefore, our community. This partnership is not something we take lightly nor do just to say we’ve done it. Staff at all levels of our two agencies have been working together to define our collaboration for months. Signing this MOU is the culmination of lots of discussions, certainly some compromises, and recognizing our own agencies’ strengths and weaknesses and then joining forces to compliment each other.
So, when the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte says we’re collaborating with Crisis Assistance Ministry, we’re saying that we value their expertise, trust them to reciprocate as partners, and know that by working together we’ll be able to further our mission of ending homelessness for each man. I’m proud to say publically that Crisis Assistance Ministry and Men’s Shelter of Charlotte are collaborators for the good of our community.
This week I’d like to share a bit about one of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte’s most impactful, yet least known, service. In 2009 we launched our Medical Respite component, based on a model developed in Boston that I had also worked with in Raleigh. You see, when a person experiencing homelessness is in a medical hospital and it’s time to be discharged, the hospital is not responsible for finding them a place to go. So, if a person came in off the streets they are most likely discharged to the streets. This is not a criticism of our hospitals, it’s just reality.
Men’s Shelter of Charlotte’s Medical Respite component [one of our 5 core components: Income/Housing/Supports/Severe Weather/ & Medical Respite] is designed to help hospitals with discharge planning so men experiencing homelessness will have a place to go immediately after leaving the hospital for further recovery. Men’s Shelter of Charlotte has 10 beds dedicated to Medical Respite and we remain more than 90% full at all times.
Here’s how it works. When any of our local medical hospitals is ready to discharge a man experiencing homelessness who also needs some additional recuperation assistance, the hospital completes a referral to Men’s Shelter of Charlotte. We work with the hospital to ensure that Men’s Shelter of Charlotte can meet his needs and we coordinate, before he is discharged, follow up appointments, medications, wound care, etc. We even schedule with the hospitals to bring home health care assistance into the shelter to assist as needed. Medical Respite lasts for less than 14 days, during which time our staff works with the person to determine their income path and housing plan. Its fairly common for us to have a man housed by the time his Medical Respite stay at the shelter is complete.
At Men’s Shelter of Charlotte we focus attention on each man based on our equation: Income + Housing + Support = An End to Homelessness. Medical Respite is a key component that keeps a man experiencing homelessness on the path towards housing while dealing with a critical medical event. Men’s Shelter of Charlotte is thankful for our incredible partnerships with Carolinas Healthcare System and Novant Health. Our hospital partners not only want to provide medical care for men experiencing homelessness, they also want to see them end their homeless experience – together that’s just what we’re doing.
These days we so often hear the words “collaboration” and “partnership.” Everyone knows the definition of each, but what does collaboration really look like? How do you know an effective partnership it when you see it? Oftentimes, it’s not as earthshattering or complicated in its execution as you might think. To illustrate, I’ll describe the process used at the Men’s Shelter to help a lot of men find more appropriate housing. For many of our men it starts with a visit to the HERC – Housing & Employment Resource Center – which is located in our Tryon Street Campus shelter. There men are greeted by volunteers who manage the activities of the center. For example, twice each week the HERC is staffed by our volunteer partners from Charlotte School of Law. The volunteers help men start the process, filling out an apartment application, determining how they’ll use public transit, and so on. From there, MSC’s housing specialists can more efficiently get men approved and ready to move into housing. To expedite the actual move, we turn to our partners at Crisis Assistance Ministry. Through their volunteers, Crisis Assistance Ministry provides our men with furniture and takes care of the physical move into their new place. By not having to manage all of the many pieces by ourselves, MSC has been able to move more men into housing in seven months this year (339 men) versus all of last year (288). You see, effective collaborations don’t have to be complicated or highly visible, they just have to get the partners focused on the mission – in our case, ending homelessness for each man.