December 11, 2013
Efforts to reduce homelessness have made some headway in recent years, thanks to new strategies initiated by various agencies.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, has adopted and implemented a Housing First approach that first places an emphasis on placing homeless individuals in housing so they are better able to tackle the issues that lead to their homeless plight.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized that veterans of the military services are more likely to face homelessness than those who didn’t serve their country. To help them, the Huntington VA Medical Center brought its services for homeless veterans under one roof at the Homeless Veterans Resource Center, 624 9th St., Huntington. The emphasis there also has been on placing veterans in permanent housing and providing them with services and support.
Despite those efforts, too many West Virginians are still without a place to call home. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has recognized that, and he has moved to revive efforts aimed at reducing the numbers.
Last week, Tomblin signed an executive order revamping the Interagency Council on Homelessness, which was created in 2007 by former Gov. Joe Manchin but has been dormant the past few years. Tomblin’s order shifts the council from the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Department of Commerce to the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities in the Department of Health and Human Resources, according to a report by The Charleston Gazette. The DHHR is a better fit for the council, Tomblin said.
In explaining the move, Tomblin referred to a study conducted by the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness that found there are 3,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the state. Forty-five percent of those homeless people are families, 18 percent are chronically homeless, and 15 percent are veterans, according to the study.
The new council’s overall mission is lofty: putting an end to homelessness in the state. To work toward that, its goals include expanding and maximizing housing resources, increasing access to state and federal social services resources, maximizing availability of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, and ensuring that persons released from state institutions have access to programs to prevent homelessness, according to the Gazette report.
All of those objectives appear to be on target in addressing issues that so often lead to people living on the streets or having no permanent home.
It’s laudable that the governor has recognized this continuing need and put in place a group to address it. This council’s work, combined with efforts already underway by other agencies, should provide a more comprehensive effort to reduce the number of people who do not have a place to call home.
— The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington