How Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, NC Ended Chronic Veteran Homelessness

By Andrea Kurtz, Senior Director of Housing Strategies, United Way of Forsyth County

Overview
Forsyth County covers 413 square miles in the northwestern part of North Carolina, and includes the city of Winston-Salem. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the population of Forsyth County was 371,511 in 2016, of which 7%, or 24,562, were Veterans. In 2016, 1,558 people experiencing homelessness sought help from HMIS-participating agencies in our county. About 144 were Veterans. While we saw a 3% decrease in our population of people experiencing homelessness overall from the prior year, we had an 18% decrease in Veteran homelessness. Our community has one 24-bed Grant and Per Diem program that serves Veterans with disabilities. We are served by the W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center, which is located outside our county in Salisbury, North Carolina.

When and why did you decide to tackle this issue?
In 2007, when our community began implementing our strategic plan, The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, we saw that Veterans were significantly over-represented among our population of people experiencing homelessness in general, and specifically among those experiencing chronic homelessness. At the time, we began discussions and evaluations of how to best address this disparity. In 2014, our Mayor, Allen Joines, was one of the first mayors to commit to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Who were the most important partners to have at the table?
As we began our work on ending Veteran homelessness, we first took time to define which “table” we would gather people around in order to develop plans on addressing the needs of Veterans experiencing homelessness. Our community was committed that the “table” was the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Continuum of Care (CoC), and that while we may break off into side conversations, the primary work would be done through the structure of our CoC. In assessing who needed to be a part of the conversation, we identified three subsets of providers: 1) Veteran
service providers; 2) homelessness service providers; and 3) key mainstream service providers and sectors. Within these categories, we identified:
Veteran Service Providers:
• Veterans Affairs HUD-VASH and Grant and Per Diem program staff, outreach workers, Homeless
Liaisons, and key staff from the Veteran Benefits Administration
• Veterans Helping Veterans Heal, our local Grant and Per Diem program
• Forsyth Rapid Re-Housing Veterans Program
• Local Veteran service organizations
August 2017
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness 2
Homelessness Service Providers
• Area homeless shelters, including shelters for single adults and families
• Forsyth Rapid Re-housing Collaborative
• Experiment in Self Reliance, our local community action agency
Other Mainstream Services and Sectors
• Housing Authority of Winston-Salem
• Forsyth County Department of Social Services
• Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina
• Vocational Rehabilitation
• Private Landlords
• Local businesses

In addition to these key players, who were the primary developers of our plans, we had unwavering support from Mayor Joines’ Office. His contribution to maintaining the political will, not just from local elected officials, but more generally across the community, helped make the work of system improvement that much easier.

What key strategies do you use to identify all Veterans experiencing homelessness (criteria 1)?
Part of our groundwork was to make sure that we had a system to identify all known Veterans experiencing homelessness, whether they are on the streets, in shelters, or couch surfing. In order to do that, the core team identified all of our CoC’s outreach teams/resources and sites in the community where we knew we could find Veterans experiencing homelessness in order to educate these staff on “who and how” people should be referred to our community’s coordinated assessment system for homeless Veteran services. Key partners in this work include the Veterans Affairs Homeless Outreach staff, the Homeless Liaison at our public library, The Empowerment Team (a local street outreach team), our local managed care entity, and our winter overflow
emergency shelter provider. As with most of our improvements, the first step was relationship building between staff at the different agencies and cross training them on the different resources and interventions each organization had available. In addition, we worked with all the staff at each partner to focus on connecting anyone that they thought was a Veteran—or even might be a Veteran—to our coordinated intake center, where they could be more thoroughly assessed.

What key strategies do you use to provide shelter immediately to any Veteran experiencing unsheltered homelessness who wants it (criteria 2)?

The most important strategy we use to ensure that all Veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness are offered shelter is communication. This includes communication among all the outreach staff in our community— whether they are doing street outreach or working at the public library—to know what shelter services are available in our community and how to connect a Veteran to these services. All outreach staff always ask an unsheltered person if they would like to come into shelter, and if a Veteran indicates they do, to help facilitate them getting connected to the right shelter. If the Veteran chooses not to come in, outreach staff encourage them to at least consent to connecting to Coordinated Assessment so they can get connected to supportive housing
programs.
August 2017
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness 3
If we know there is an unsheltered Veteran in our community, we make a concerted effort to have outreach staff connect with them on a regular basis to continually offer shelter options while a permanent housing strategy is implemented.

What key strategies do you use to make sure your community only provides service intensive transitional housing in limited instances (criteria 3)?
In our CoC, we see transitional housing programs not as a broadly needed stepping stone to permanency, but rather as a critical specialized service to be used when other permanent options have proven unsuccessful because of an individual’s needs, generally around substance abuse and mental health issues. We have a very limited number of service-intensive GPD beds. These beds, while technically open to any Veteran from our VA Medical Center’s catchment area, primarily focus on serving Veterans from our CoC and the surrounding counties
from our Balance of State who have significant needs for substance abuse and mental health services. The CoC, VA, and GPD staff maintain regular conversations about keeping the work of the GPD focused on Veterans who are in need of intensive services because other interventions, such as permanent supportive housing or rapid rehousing,
have proven unsuccessful.

What key strategies do you use to make sure your community has the capacity to assist Veterans to swiftly move into permanent housing (criteria 4)?
Our coordinated assessment system is our primary driver for moving Veterans quickly into permanent housing. Once we have identified an individual as a potential Veteran, we can usually verify their discharge status and any active duty periods within 24 hours, which helps our coordinated assessment staff better understand which programs they may be eligible for. From there, our coordinated assessment staff can connect the Veteran, based upon our CoC-adopted housing prioritization plan, into a housing program that offers the least intensive services necessary to help stabilize the Veteran and their family in permanent housing. We work very closely with the VA to ensure that there is coordination between our coordinated assessment and the VA’s intake staff.

What key strategies do you use to make sure you have the resources, plans, and system capacity in place should any Veteran become homeless or be at risk of homelessness in the future (criteria 5)?
With our SSVF program, we offer a limited amount of prevention services for Veterans. In addition, our CoC has
developed a process of continuous quality improvement. This process continually monitors our performance data
and evaluates the needs and gaps in our system both for Veterans and non-Veterans. Through our quarterly
action planning meetings, we are able to develop short, medium, and long-range plans to ensure that our system
is able to meet the emergent needs of people in our community facing a housing crisis.
What are the top three things your community has done to make sure you are sustaining
your progress?
1) Build and invest in relationships
2) Focus on continuous improvement
3) Monitor resource use and allocation to make sure that we have the right resources reaching the right
populations of Veterans

Press Release: Volunteers Will Hit the Streets to Count People Experiencing Homelessness on July 26, 2017

WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Volunteers Will Hit the Streets to Count People Experiencing Homelessness on July 26, 2017

Twice a year, the lives of people experiencing homelessness have a greater potential to be changed, thanks to a program coordinated by United Way of Forsyth County (UWFC) and the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Continuum of Care.

Starting at 8 p.m. on July 26, 2017, dozens of volunteers will meet at Samaritan Ministries 414 E NW Blvd, and hit the streets throughout the night to count the number of people sleeping outside. The exercise, called Homeless Point-in-Time Count is a one-day, unduplicated count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families that happens across the country.

The event is part of a national initiative to measure and combat chronic homelessness. The goal is to give the local and federal government an idea of how many people are experiencing homelessness in the area, and to make sure there are enough appropriate services to help them.

Volunteers will be organized into groups of four or five and in two shifts, 8pm-12am and 1am-4am. Organizers will be assembling bags of necessities to hand out to homeless men and women and are seeking donations of individual tissue packets, sun screen, bottled water, canned foods with pop-tops or pre-packaged food, and plastic utensils.

Before the volunteers take to the streets, they will receive training on personal safety, how to identify homeless individuals, where homeless individuals may be sleeping and how to survey individuals experiencing homelessness.

For more information or to register to volunteer, contact Kathleen  Wiener at Kathleen.Wiener@uwforsyth.org or 336.721.9378.

Community residents may register here:

http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=uez4ixuab&oeidk=a07ee9xct4t1b616077

In October 2015, Winston-Salem was certified as having met the goal of ending veteran homelessness. Now the community is attempting to end chronic homelessness by 2017. Both of these milestones are part of Built for Zero, a national campaign to end veteran and chronic homelessness.

Information learned from previous counts has helped officials to develop more efficient resource programs to better serve those experiencing homelessness .

 

United Way of Forsyth County brings the community and its resources together to solve problems that no one organization can address alone.

Press Release: Volunteers Will Hit the Streets to Count People Experiencing Homelessness on January 25

WINSTON-SALEM, NC –  Every year on the last Wednesday in January, the lives of people experiencing homelessness have a greater potential to be changed, thanks to a program coordinated by United Way of Forsyth County (UWFC) and the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Continuum of Care.

Starting at 9 p.m. on January 25, dozens of volunteers will meet at Samaritan Ministries 414 E NW Blvd, and hit the streets throughout the night to count the number of people sleeping outside. The exercise, called Homeless Point-in-Time Count is a one-day, unduplicated count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families that happens across the country.

The event is part of a national initiative to measure and combat chronic homelessness. The goal is to give the local and federal government an idea of how many people are experiencing homelessness in the area, to make sure there are enough appropriate services to help them.

Two teams of volunteers will be organized into groups of four or five and in two shifts, 9 pm-12 am and 1am-4am. Organizers will be assembling bags of necessities to hand out to homeless men and women with donations of winter hats, scarves, hand warmers, individual tissue packets, sun screen, bottled water, canned foods with pop-tops or pre-packaged food, and plastic utensils. Before the volunteers take to the streets, they will receive training on personal safety, how to identify homeless individuals, where homeless individuals may be sleeping and how to survey individuals experiencing homelessness.

This is the final count during the 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. In October 2015, Winston-Salem was certified as having met the goal of ending veteran homelessness. Now the community is attempting to end chronic homelessness by 2017. Both of these milestones are part of Built for Zero, a national campaign to end veteran and chronic homelessness.

Information learned from previous counts has helped officials to develop more efficient resource programs to better serve the homeless.  For example, the community intake center helps connect people who are homeless to supportive housing resources based on their vulnerability instead of first come basis.

Forsyth County resource programs have been changed from accepting individuals on a first-come, first-serve basis to a need priority basis.

Press Release: “Hero Effect” Docu-Series on OWN Network Highlights United Way Initiatives

Winston Salem, NC- November 4, 2016 – A new inspirational docu-series, The Hero Effect is premiering on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) with an inaugural episode highlighting United Way’s work supporting military veterans. In anticipation of the episode, United Way of Forsyth County today announced it has helped more than 200 veterans in: accessing workforce training, obtaining meaningful employment, finding long-term housing, and achieving financial stability.

Presented by United Way and produced by Dolphin Entertainment, The Hero Effect is an uplifting docu-series that brings to life the stories of ordinary individuals who are making extraordinary differences in their communities. The ten-episode original series brings audiences real-life stories that build on United Way’s credo to fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community.

The first episode of The Hero Effect kicks-off on Saturday, November 12 at 10 am EST, and features Mission United™ – a community network connecting veterans with access to housing, employment and legal services, allowing them to successfully integrate into civilian life. The episode spotlights Mission United founder Stephen Moss, a former Army Company Commander in the Vietnam War who was inspired to take action after his daughter returned from deployment with injuries.

Hosted by Donald Driver, a former Wide Receiver for the Green Bay Packers and Emily Wilson, a philanthropist and actress, each episode concludes with a call to action, encouraging viewers to visit www.HeroEffect.com and connect with their local United Way or other community-based organizations to create positive change.

“United Way Forsyth County in partnership with The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries, is committed to supporting veterans who are grappling with housing needs, by providing homeless prevention and rapid re-housing services” said President and CEO, Cindy Gordineer ” By sharing Stephen Moss’s story, The Hero Effect is shining the spotlight on the struggles veterans and their families face around the country and in our community.”

United Way of Forsyth County believes quality of life relies on education, financial stability, health, and basic needs. All four are critical and interdependent to the collective success of our community. United Way of Forsyth County creates positive change in the community by aligning resources and strategic partners to achieve measurable, lasting results. We invest in improving student success and the high school graduation rate, increasing financial stability among lower-income individuals and families, broadening access to health care and providing critical assistance to those facing immediate crisis. Learn more about our work and rediscover the why behind the way at www.forsythunitedway.org.

About Dolphin Entertainment

Founded in 1996, Dolphin is a world-class independent financier, distributor and producer of premium film, television and digital programming. Dolphin has produced and delivered original content to more than 300 million homes in 125 countries. Dolphin Entertainment is an Emmy-nominated leader in family, tween, teen and young-adult television programming. Dolphin Entertainment is known for creating hit properties such as Emmy-nominated Zoey 101 (Nickelodeon’s highest-rated series), Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, and What’s Up Warthogs (Family Channel’s Canadian Screen Award nominated). The Dolphin Entertainment-produced family sitcom Raising Expectations, starring Molly Ringwald and Jason Priestley, premiered on Mother’s Day 2016, on Family Channel Canada.

About OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network is the first and only network named for, and inspired by, a single iconic leader. Oprah Winfrey’s heart and creative instincts inform the brand – and the magnetism of the channel. Winfrey provides leadership in programming and attracts superstar talent to join her in primetime, building a global community of like-minded viewers and leading that community to connect on social media and beyond. OWN is a singular destination on cable. Depth with edge. Heart. Star power. Connection. And endless possibilities. OWN is a joint venture between Harpo, Inc. and Discovery Communications. The network debuted on January 1, 2011. The venture also includes the award-winning digital platform Oprah.com. For more information, please visit www.oprah.com/own and https://press.discovery.com/us/own/.