Outreach to Homeless Project Slated to End
July 31, 2006
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It might have taken a week, a month or even years, but hundreds of homeless people who lived under bridges, in parks and out of sight of most residents in Contra Costa have been getting off the street and into housing in the last few years. That success may come to an end in September when funding for the County's outreach teams ends.
Contra Costa Health Services' federal grant for a unique project aimed at getting the chronic homeless into permanent supportive housing has paid for two outreach teams covering the whole county. They've identified almost 6,000 homeless people and helped more than 1,000 of them into supportive housing. When the grant money runs out at the end of September, there will be only a small team of staff left, working only in the unincorporated areas of the county.
"This has been a very successful project, finding people who may have been living outside for years and connecting them to housing and services that ended their cycle of homelessness," says Cynthia Belon, Director of Contra Costa Health Services' Homeless Services Program. "We've helped people get medical care, housing, alcohol and drug treatment services and even simple support like clothes and food."
According to Belon, the project has been successful because a number of agencies have worked together to find the people in need of help, connect them with a broad range of services and support them through the sometimes difficult process of getting to appointments, completing paperwork and navigating the system and then refer them on for housing. The outreach teams often get calls from law enforcement, residents and businesses pointing out people in need of immediate assistance.
"In Contra Costa, homeless people are often much more hidden than in other communities with bigger cities. Our teams went out and found these people in encampments and wooded areas in every community. They built relationships with them, earned their trust and encouraged them to come into the shelters and begin getting help," Belon said.
What will happen now, with fewer trained professionals available is that homeless people in need of care will end up in emergency rooms or in jail. Homeless people with chronic diseases like diabetes are more likely to die from lack of attention. Belon says she hopes cities or other agencies will step up and continue the outreach efforts.
"This will be much worse for people who are homeless and will cost all of us much more money to cover emergency room costs and jail., Belon says, adding that even though the project has been success, there is a lot more work to be done. The county estimates there are 15,000 homeless people each year and half of them are chronically homeless. Many of them have substance abuse, mental health problems and chronic medical problems.
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- Cynthia Belon