Following a canvassing effort last week to document those living on the streets in the Bethesda area, local outreach group met with the community Monday to outline their findings. The group hopes to share the data with policy makers to help inform their decision-making when it comes to housing the chronically homeless.
The registry effort is a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a nationwide effort aimed to house 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless individuals by July of 2013. The campaign tasks communities with creating a by-name registry of homeless individuals in order to help service providers match them with resources and assist them into permanent housing.
Last week, – beginning at 4a.m. -- collecting information from the homeless about health problems, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, length of time out on the street, and whether or not the homeless individual is a veteran, said Bethesda Cares Outreach Specialist John Mendez.
Out of the 54 people Bethesda Cares and its teams of volunteers contacted during the canvas, 40 of the individuals were willing to participate in the survey. 32 of those were men, and eight were women. Six were war veterans.
An electronic database of the information collected is underway, though it’s not yet publicly available. Included in the data figures, of the 40 surveyed:
- 19 reported having a mental health diagnosis
- 14 reported having participated in substance abuse treatment programs
- 20 reported sleeping most frequently on the street
- Two reported sleeping most frequently in a shelter
- Four reported having diabetes
- Seven reported having limited mobility
- Six reported having asthma
- Eight reported having a heart condition
- Six reported having had frostbite
- 14 reported having been a victim of an attack
Bethesda Cares wants to use the data to help prioritize housing for the most medically vulnerable – those most at risk of dying on the street.
"This will give us a more accurate understanding of the medically vulnerable indicators that contribute to long-term street homelessness,” said Susan Kirk, Bethesda Cares executive director, in a statement. “The index will serve as a social services efficiency tool for prioritizing housing assistance and services. It's the smart way to do the right thing."
But prioritization when it comes to housing the homeless has with the Housing Opportunities Commission, the agency that administers housing vouchers in the county.
The commission told Patch in September that they do not prioritize housing vouchers for any one type of homeless individual – rather they use a lottery system and have a waiting list for those in need of housing. Bethesda Cares argues that that means those who are housed first are those who can navigate the system and can effectively advocate for themselves – not the chronically homeless, who are less likely to access services on their own.
“If you’re in the emergency room and a guy comes in comes in with the flu and another guy comes in with head trauma, who are you going to treat first?” Mendez said.
Among the attendees to Monday’s meeting were County Councilman George Leventhal (D- At large) and Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services Special Needs Housing Chief Nadim A. Khan, both of whom agreed more discussion was needed on whether housing should be prioritized for the most medically vulnerable.
Leventhal said that while the goal is to house everyone, there aren’t enough housing vouchers to go around. Leventhal – who participated in last week’s survey – offered to organize a meeting between Bethesda Cares, Health and Human Services, and the Housing Opportunities Commission to discuss further the issue of whether certain individuals should be first in line for housing.
“You’re prioritizing among people who are in desperate straits -- that’s not an easy call to make,” Leventhal said.
Volunteers who participated in the registry week also spoke at Monday's meeting. Stay tuned to Patch to hear their stories and for continuing coverage on the issue of homelessness in Bethesda.