There is not enough coffee in the world to make me a pleasant person at 3 a.m. Yet, on Monday, October 17, I was filled with excitement as I walked into Arlington County’s Department of Human Services building at 3 a.m. What could possibly drag me out of a peaceful slumber at this ungodly hour?
I wanted to end homelessness in Arlington.
The 100 Homes Campaign is an initiative of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Arlington, a county-wide effort to coordinate services and leverage community support to give everyone a safe and secure home in our county. The nonprofit I work at, Doorways for Women and Families, is a partner in the 10 Year Plan, helping provide a voice for the countless families experiencing homelessness in our community. The goal for the week of October 17 was to identify the most vulnerable individuals on our streets and in our shelters, so that we could rapidly get them into housing. The goal for the 100 Homes campaign is to get 100 vulnerable Arlingtonians into 100 homes by July 2013. A tall order, but luckily we started early in the morning.
Over one hundred volunteers showed up that morning to comb the streets and interview any identified homeless to determine their level of vulnerability (to learn more about the model we used, check out this link). Teams were sent to all corners of Arlington. That’s where I came in. I sat by the phone with Tiffany Kudravetz, the enthusiast volunteer specialist from Volunteer Arlington, waiting for the teams to call in and report the locations where they had searched. We were the mapping team. Before, when I looked at Arlington street maps, I saw traffic jams and impatient drivers. Now, I saw the homes and bedrooms of those living under overpasses, in parking garages or in sidewalk tents. Even for someone working at a homeless service provider, this was still an eye-opening experience.
After most of the teams had reported back, I was sent out, along with many others, to one of the shelters in the area to survey the population under its roof. Homelessness has multiple faces. I am reminded of that fact every day through my work at Doorways for Women and Families. We see too many neighbors, friends and relatives come through our doors each year that don’t conform to an easy definition of homeless. We see families with small children – now representing 50% of the homeless population in our area. And we often see those who have to choose between a domestic violence situation and homelessness, which is no choice at all. The 100 Homes Campaign made all of that clear to me as I listened to the stories of how people came to be homeless, some familiar but all unique in their own way.
All told, the 100 Homes Campaign inspired 150 community members to volunteer and survey 153 individuals. In the process we learned some very important things:
- 29% of those surveyed were Tri-Morbid (experiencing mental health issues, substance abuse issues and a serious medical condition)
- 37% of respondents were declared “vulnerable”
- The average number of years spent experiencing homelessness for vulnerable individuals was 7
More than anything else, the 100 Homes Campaign taught us one thing: we live in a community where ending homelessness is possible. The community responded to the need to identify these individuals and now we need the community to respond to the need of housing these individuals. This is going to be a long process that will not end once the 100 are housed. But, with a caring enough community, a giving enough community, we can end homelessness in Arlington. It’s a cause worth waking up for.