Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Turning a corner on homelessness

The Orange County 10-year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness has was adopted earlier this year by all the participating jurisdictions, including Chapel Hill. Out of that plan came the recommendation to form an "executive team" to oversee the plan's implementation. Last night, that team met for the first time. I was selected to be the chair of this group. This is a challenging assignment. We are charged with hiring a full-time coordinator for the plan and overseeing the work. I'll shortly be meeting with a subcommittee to flesh out the job description and recommend how to go about advertising and interviewing for the position. Here's the charge of the executive team from the 10-year plan document:

The Executive Team will provide insight as to the direction, and new efforts that are needed over the course of the 10 Year Implementation. It will serve as a base of community support by advocating for programs that move the results of the 10 Year Plan forward within Orange County and provide oversight for the 10 Year Plan Coordinator. This Team will meet quarterly [at least!] to ensure that goals, objectives and strategies of the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness are being met, and to help address the inevitable challenges inherent in this ambitious initiative. At least one meeting per year will serve as a public forum for the community-at-large. These annual forums will provide the Executive Team an opportunity to update the community on plan activities and to reaffirm community direction and support as the Plan evolves and new strategies are adopted to end and prevent homelessness in the next decade. Annually, strategies will be prioritized for the coming 12 months.

Members of the executive team are the ones who will forge the critical links to the community in this new and ambitious project. One thing I learned at the conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness was that every place that has taken on such a project has responded to the challenges of its own circumstances in its own creative ways. Another is that the two most important words are "partnership" and "collaboration."

I shared with this group a DVD showcasing the work of Seattle's Downtown Emergency Services Center, a nonprofit organization that provides "disabled and vulnerable homeless adults," particularly those with mental health and substance abuse problems, with a continuum of housing and support services ranging from emergency shelter to permanent supportive housing. They've achieved great successes, including, recently, the opening of their 1811 Eastlake Project (built to house 75 chronically homeless people, targeting alcoholics) in downtown Seattle after an 18-month legal battle with one real estate developer. (See a recent story about this amazing project.)

King County, Washington (where Seattle is), has a comprehensive 10-Year Plan, managed by the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. By their own reports, they're making good progress. But other contemporaneous reports are not so rosy: wrote the Seattle Weekly over a year ago, "The region's ambitious 10-year timetable to end homelessness is in serious trouble, undercut and under funded. The Bush administration is sending mixed signals, and things are about to get worse."

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

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