Why Point in Time is Important

I was recently hired as the Community Outreach Coordinator for One Roof, whose mission is to equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and coordination of services.  This is a mission that is permanently imprinted on my heart and mind and that I learned through two years of serving as an AmeriCorps member at One Roof through the YW’s AmeriCorps program.

As an AmeriCorps member I was responsible for coordinating Point-in-Time, an annual mini-census of everyone in our area currently impacted by homelessness.  I first heard about Point-in-Time during my interview for my AmeriCorps position with One Roof two and a half years ago.  The description of the event was odd to me – why do we count people who are homeless?  At the time, I was unfamiliar with the complexities of homelessness.   But when I experienced Point-in-Time for the first time, it became clear to me why this event is so very, very important to our community.

Point-in-Time, or PIT, takes place nationally in most communities across the United States.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires every community that receives funding to conduct a count like this.  The data collected during PIT has very practical uses.  It can be used to leverage funding for homeless and homeless prevention services because it documents need.   PIT data can be used to understand trends in homelessness, especially homelessness in specific geographic locations. We know that we can’t prevent and end homelessness in our area if we don’t understand it first.  Simply put, PIT helps us understand who is homeless, why they’re homeless, what services are missing, and what solutions can be made for a future where homelessness is a rare occurrence.

PIT data helps us come up with innovative solutions that serve the most people the most effectively.   It’s a tool for making Birmingham and the rest of central Alabama a healthier place to live, where the most vulnerable community members have somewhere to turn and where agencies are taking educated, thoughtful steps to empower people to improve their lives.  PIT is an event that educates.  It’s an event that engages so many members of our community and is truly a collaborative effort to lift up and honor the experiences of people who are currently homeless.

In 2013, a little over 100 volunteers helped us to find and interview anyone sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation – a population made up of domestic violence survivors, veterans, youth, families, and other people in crisis.  PIT gives community members the opportunity to reach out to someone experiencing homelessness in a way that doesn’t shy away from the truth of their situation.

While the data itself is important, what has become even more important to me is the fact that PIT is essentially a collection of interviews.  Each survey gives visibility and acknowledgement to the struggle that someone is currently facing in our community; and perhaps, more importantly, it highlights what that person needs to gain safe, decent, accessible, and affordable housing.   Each piece of paper demonstrates the desire of a community to reach out and tell someone who is experiencing homelessness, “You matter.  You count.”

This year, more than 120 volunteers will assist us with conducting our Point-in-Time interviews from 6:00 PM on January 22 until 5:59 PM on January 23.  We are very thankful for all the community members who have reached out to conduct interviews this year, including AmeriCorps members serving in the YWCA’s Building Communities, Bettering Lives program.  Although we have closed registration for this year’s Point-in-Time count, you can visit our blog for a list of reasons why you might want to join us for Point-in-Time in the future.  For anyone who would like to be involved with One Roof, we invite you to participate and learn more about our upcoming events, Cardboard Connect and Project Homeless Connect, or like us on Facebook.

 

Stacy Oliver is the Community Outreach Coordinator for One Roof and a former AmeriCorps member with the YWCA of Central Alabama’s Building Communities, Bettering Lives program.  

One Roof’s Accomplishments and Upcoming Projects

As many of you know, One Roof’s mission is equipping and empowering our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and coordination of services. This year, One Roof has resolved to further our mission by publicizing our accomplishments and increasing awareness of our goals and upcoming projects.

2013 was a busy year for One Roof and we’re quite proud of what we accomplished:

  • We successfully competed for and secured the nearly $9 million Continuum of Care grant that funds many of the supportive housing programs in our area, equipping agencies in central Alabama to prevent and end homelessness. Since 2005, we have seen a nearly 40% reduction in people experiencing homelessness on any given night due to housing initiatives like the supportive housing projects funded through the Continuum of Care grant.
  • In addition to our regularly scheduled Homelessness 101 workshops, we offered a Transgender 101 workshop to answer the call of case workers, social workers, and other representatives from our member agencies who’ve repeatedly expressed that they want to know more about the issues facing transgender individuals experiencing homelessness. To read more about this workshop and One Roof’s efforts to ensure safe spaces for all persons experiencing homelessness in our area, click here.
  • We partnered with YouthServe to launch Birmingham’s first ever Cardboard Connect.  This overnight event raised young people’s awareness of homelessness in Birmingham and benefitted Project Homeless Connect. Youth who attended played awareness games, gained knowledge of the barriers to housing stability, learned about the good work of homeless service providers in Birmingham, collected hygiene products to give at Project Homeless Connect, and were empowered to share this experience with their community. Be sure to like us on Facebook and check out photos from this event.
  • We collaborated with the City of Birmingham, Hands on Birmingham, and the United Way of Central Alabama for our city’s 6th annual Project Homeless Connect. In 2013, PHC provided more than 780 clients with legal, medical, vision, dental, state ID, Social Security card, and other services, all free of charge. Many of our guests at PHC were clients of member agencies, and we are proud that we can provide this service that takes place on one day, in one place, to make permanent housing attainable for so many in our area.
  • We improved how we conduct Point in Time, our annual census of persons experiencing homelessness in our area. We performed a complete grid search of the downtown area, visiting every single street on the Northside and Southside. We also expanded into neighborhoods not previously covered by the Point in Time survey. This work allowed us to better understand our homeless population and the information gathered will help us better serve persons experiencing homelessness in our area.
  • We partnered with students from UAB’s Inter-professional Global Health Service Learning program to pilot a vulnerability survey in our emergency shelters: Firehouse, First Light, and Salvation Army. We surveyed over 150 persons seeking emergency shelter about physical and mental health conditions. The information we gathered will allow us to better identify gaps in services and better serve those experiencing homelessness in our area.

One Roof has planned some very exciting goals and projects to help us further our mission in 2014:

  • In this year’s Point-in-Time Count (January 22-23, 2014), we will incorporate questions related to medical vulnerability that will help us to better understand and plan for the health needs of those experiencing homelessness in our community. We’ll also pass out I Count! stickers to show persons experiencing homelessness in our area that they are seen and heard, that their experiences matter and we are working to better serve them. The stickers will help make the survey a more positive experience, minimizing repeated interviews and reducing duplication of data. Learn more about this event and volunteer here.
  • We will continue our collaboration with YouthServe, the City of Birmingham, HandsOn Birmingham, and the United Way to host our 2nd annual Cardboard Connect (March 8-9, 2014) and our 7th annual Project Homeless Connect (April 5, 2014).
  • One Roof will partner with the Alabama Department of Corrections to incorporate the SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery) principles in the prison re-entry process. We are confident that this effort can help to prevent homelessness after release and reduce recidivism for those inmates that become participants with One Roof’s SOAR program. In our 2013 Point in Time count, we found that 86 of 1,259 homeless individuals in our area have a disability and reported recent incarceration. Of those 86, 36 (42%) became homeless within one week of their release, and 48 (60%) became homeless within six months. Our efforts will lessen these numbers and prevent and end homelessness for an entire subpopulation.
  • We will complete a set of Continuum of Care Policies and Procedures. Developing CoC Policies and Procedures will improve the utilization of best practices, allow One Roof to practice utmost transparency in everything we do as a CoC, and give us a governing document that assures our funders that we use their money to the best benefit of the client.

We at One Roof have an exciting and busy year ahead of us. Please consider making a donation here to support our efforts to prevent and end homelessness in our area, and be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and keep up with our blog.

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day & One Roof’s Vulnerability Survey

This Saturday, December 21 is National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. Two weeks ago, the body of Christopher Kelley Winstead, a man experiencing homelessness in our community, was found in Southside. Mr. Winstead appeared to have been dead for several weeks. The cause of his death is unknown and it’s unclear whether or not his death was preventable, but we at One Roof do know this: if Mr. Winstead had been stably housed, he would’ve been able to pass with dignity. We believe that all people deserve safety and stability, and this includes passing with dignity. No one deserves to die in the street.

This fall, One Roof partnered with students from UAB’s Inter-professional Global Health Service Learning program to pilot a vulnerability survey in three of our member agencies that provide emergency shelter: Firehouse, First Light, and Salvation Army. On a single night in early November, we surveyed around 150 persons staying in shelter to measure their vulnerability to death. We chose to pilot this survey in our emergency shelter population because, aside from our population staying on the streets, this population is perhaps the most vulnerable, the most unstable, and the most likely to have a serious, yet treatable or manageable health condition cause irreparable damage or death.

We found that nearly 1 out of every 4 persons surveyed is living with heart disease. These statistics are not necessarily surprising because we know that heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. However, a person experiencing homelessness is much more vulnerable to dying from heart disease than a housed person. Unlike a housed person living with heart disease, a person experiencing homelessness and living with heart disease may not have access to appropriate treatment and care, nutritious well-balanced meals (though they may have access to food), or routine cardio exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of Americans have one of the following three risk factors for heart disease: smoking, high blood pressure, and high LDL cholesterol. Additional risk factors for heart disease include diabetes, poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, and excessive alcohol use. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, one study shows that men aged 45-64 and experiencing homelessness are 40-50% more likely to die from heart disease than men aged 45-64 and stably housed. The authors of this study (full-text here) identified the following risk factors for persons experiencing homelessness:

  • extreme blood sugar fluctuations among those with diabetes due to poor diet and lack of exercise (even when taking medication)
  • inadequately treated or undiagnosed high blood pressure
  • inadequately treated or undiagnosed high triglyceride levels, possibly due to diabetes, alcohol usage, kidney failure or kidney disease
  • other health conditions caused by high rates of smoking, excessive alcohol use, and inadequate nutrition

As you can see, risk factors for heart disease are much higher for persons experiencing homelessness.  These risk factors, along with a gap in treatment and care, directly increase the vulnerability to death of persons experiencing homelessness and living with heart disease.

We also found that around 10% of people surveyed have experienced cold weather related conditions, including hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot, and around 15% of people surveyed have experienced heat stroke/exhaustion. Persons experiencing homelessness are much more vulnerable to developing weather and exposure related conditions than stably housed persons (National Coalition for the Homeless). Think about it: a person living on the streets or in shelter doesn’t have unlimited access to warm, dry shelter in the winter or cool, dry shelter in the summer. A person experiencing homelessness doesn’t always have access to clean, dry clothing. This lack of resources, along with various risk factors and health conditions, directly increases the vulnerability of persons experiencing homelessness.

According to an article by Dean Carpenter (On the Front Lines: A Case of Trench Foot in a Homeless Woman), the following are risk factors for weather related injuries in persons experiencing homelessness:

  • alcohol use, which decreases the awareness of symptoms of cold-related injuries
  • nicotine use, which restricts blood flow and causes extremities to get colder faster
  • nerve damage due to diabetes or alcoholism
  • poor nutrition and dehydration
  • ill-fitting shoes, stockings, or socks, all of which restrict circulation to the feet
  • no access to clean, dry socks and warm shelter

We assessed our homeless population’s history of weather related conditions because this is a key part of understanding the vulnerability of persons experiencing homelessness in our area. As noted in a study by Dr. Jim O’Connell of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, persons experiencing homelessness with a history of hypothermia, frostbite, or trench foot are eight times more vulnerable to death than persons experiencing homelessness without these conditions.

In our community, we also had to consider injuries and conditions due to hot weather. Hydration is incredibly important for persons exposed to hot weather conditions. Joseph Rampulla notes that persons living with alcoholism or poorly treated diabetes are often chronically dehydrated, a condition worsened by exposure to extreme heat. Many persons experiencing homelessness may limit how much liquid they drink due to a lack of available public bathrooms in their community. For a stably housed person, having a place to use the bathroom is a given. For a person experiencing homelessness, drinking lots of water to stay hydrated means having to search for a bathroom and, often, being turned away. Without regular access to cool, dry shelter and public bathrooms, a person experiencing homelessness is much more vulnerable to hyperthermia and heat stroke.

One Roof believes that all people deserve safety, stability, appropriate treatment and care, and affordable housing, and it is our mission to prevent and end homelessness in our community. We believe that all people deserve to live healthily and die with dignity. As a community of service providers, concerned citizens, and advocates for some of the most vulnerable persons in our community, it is our responsibility to make sure that no person experiencing homelessness in our community dies on the street.

Please donate here to support our efforts to educate, advocate, and coordinate services in our community.

 

Josh Helms is an AmeriCorps member serving at One Roof as the Capacity Building Assistant.

 

 

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