Homelessness response remains constant

The County Account

In July the county Legislature passed a resolution to allocate $989,000 in federal funding to further rent assistance to low-income people and affordable housing opportunities in the county.

Noteworthy is that July 22 marked the 24th anniversary of the historic federal McKinny Ventro Act. Therein Congress found that the nation faced “an immediate and unprecedented crisis due to lack of shelter.”

It declared that “states, local units of government and private voluntary organizations have been unable to meet the basic needs of all the homeless” and approved the “use of public resources and programs to meet these critically urgent needs.”

The McKinney Ventro Act, adopted and signed into law by President Reagan in 1987, was the first significant legislative response to homelessness. It established the elaborate framework and a multitude of specific programs that continue to deliver services to the local homeless population today.

Within the county, the departments of Planning and Mental Hygiene staff housing professionals who oversee the local implementation of the McKinny Ventro Act, including determining the contract agencies that tend to the needs of the homeless.

On a quarterly basis all entities involved with housing meet for a housing consortium to garner a more complete understanding of client needs, outcomes and to understand the extent and nature of homelessness in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

For the past year I have been attending these meetings and have been impressed to see how the system reaches far beyond mere hospitality in providing a bed to a person in need, but also seeks to provide long-term solutions and avoid recidivism.

This month I was trained on the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), which is the Internet-based tracking system that captures information about the homeless population in its attempt to understand and ultimately end homelessness. The homeless are tracked based upon utilization of services in the HMIS system upon each new episode of homelessness or break in service.

From this data, patterns are discernible in individual cases, so are societal trends that can assist and influence policy makers. In 2010, there were 1,416 persons who used county shelter and housing. Nearly all in emergency shelters reported coming from a “housing situation” (rental, ownership, living with family or friends). Very few were recorded as “literally homeless.” More than 10 percent reported coming from an institutional setting (hospital, jail/prison or substance abuse treatment center).

Compared to the state, Dutchess County’s homeless emergency shelters are serving a disproportionate percentage of African-Americans (42.4 percent compared to the state average of 17.2 percent).

Even more upsetting is the fact that HMIS tracking shows that African-Americans in Dutchess County are not making it through the housing continuum with the same success rates as whites and multi-racials. Only 27.9 percent of homeless African-Americans in Dutchess County landed in permanent housing, compared to 67.6 percent of whites. Likewise, our county system is serving very few veterans (0.15 percent).

Twenty-four years after McKinny Ventro, the shelter crisis it sought to solve is still with us. So also, whether for good or bad, is the continued communal resolve to use public funds to alleviate the plight of homelessness.

Michael Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.