Four months ago, I moved more than 2,200 miles to become executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board. Since then, I have met many caring, proud, and compassionate people who share my passion about ending homelessness. I see in this community a genuine opportunity to make real and lasting progress.
Many people are unaware that our community has a board whose responsibility is to coordinate the local process aimed at eliminating homelessness. The board’s mission is to provide leadership to achieve that objective through a continuum of care.
We partner with local agencies, some of which get federal funds. We meet with the people we serve. Although the process that will work best is a matter of debate, we all share the goal of developing a coordinated, comprehensive, and targeted response to homelessness in Toledo and Lucas County.
The board also monitors community agencies’ performance, operates the Homeless Management Information System — a data-gathering and reporting program — and ensures that federal and state guidelines are properly interpreted and executed.
Our efforts to end homelessness in Toledo face many barriers. The best known obstacle is one we have no control over: reductions in federal funding. We have to do more with less.
Funding cuts coincide with spikes in unemployment, which cause increases in homelessness. As our homeless numbers rise, the need for our services increases, even as our revenues are reduced.
To respond to this cycle and remain effective in our mission, we must adopt the most efficient means of getting homeless people and families rehoused. That process includes a coordinated assessment of people who enter the homeless system.
We followed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines to create our system. Our partners in the continuum of care voted to adopt the model we use.
Previously, some of the shelters we work with were open only at certain hours or on certain days. Now, all shelters accept referrals every hour of every day.
We now have a central point at which we can track a household’s progress through the rehousing process, to ensure that the household enters the appropriate program. Our diversion services have reduced the number of households that become homeless.
Yet the challenge remains great. Between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, the partners in our local continuum of care served more than 3,000 people in Toledo and Lucas County. That represented, on average, more than 1,100 people every night and more than 426,000 “bed nights.”
Unless we can permanently re-house an individual or family, our process is less efficient. But among households that go through our rapid-rehousing models, fewer than 3 percent become homeless again.
We will continue to reach out to all of this community’s passionate advocates for homeless people. We look forward to making the kind of progress that can be achieved only if everyone works together.
I am convinced that the homelessness board and our partners in the continuum of care can measurably prevent, reduce, and ultimately eliminate homelessness in our community.
Thomas Bonnington is executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board.