by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette
Three hundred volunteers will take to the streets this year to examine the need for permanent housing for Montgomery County’s homeless. The event marks the county’s initial steps to participate in the national “100,000 Homes” campaign.
A coalition of county government officials, nonprofit organizations and volunteers will join forces to place homeless people in permanent housing. The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless will be the driving force, Executive Director Susie Sinclair-Smith said.
The county’s involvement with the national campaign will begin Nov. 4, when volunteers are expected to walk the streets and assess the needs of homeless people willing to talk to them.
Volunteers are scheduled to be trained Nov. 3 to conduct Vulnerability Index Surveys that will produce scores based on a person’s mental and physical health, age and drug use. The higher the score, the more the person needs. People with the highest scores will be placed in housing first.
Volunteers are expected to conduct the surveys Nov. 4 through 6, between 4 and 7 a.m. A housing development plan will be ready by Nov. 7, Sinclair-Smith said.
“We will be going out to the woods, bus stations, Metro stations to identify the people who need help,” County Councilmember George Leventhal (D-at large) of Takoma Park said at a press conference Wednesday.
On average, 1,000 people are homeless every night in the county, Leventhal said in his speech. About 400 of them are chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for a year.
He said the 100,000 Homes campaign will help slowly lower those numbers over the coming years.
“We may not end homelessness all together, but for those individuals we place in homes,” Leventhal said, “we will end it for them.”
Leventhal has been a driving force in getting the county involved with the national campaign. The county will join more than 200 communities working together to provide permanent housing to 100,000 chronic and medically vulnerable homeless individuals by July 2014.
The campaign has passed its halfway mark and has housed 55,684 homeless individuals, according to its website.
But the county’s coalition plans to continuously provide housing to people even after the national campaign has met its goal, Sinclair-Smith said.
The county’s coalition for the homeless also will provide medical care and therapy to those who need it, something it already does for current clients.
Lack of health care is a leading cause of homelessness, said Michael Stoops, community organizer for the National Coalition for the Homeless. Accessibility to both health care and a house should be the first steps to getting people off the streets.
“We all need more than just a roof over our heads,” he said.
Stoops added that the National Coalition for the Homeless sees heath care and housing as human rights.
Chuck Hanson, a Bethesda Cares volunteer and future volunteer for the November surveys, said the homeless are no different than everyone else.
“People on the streets are just that,” Hanson said. “They’re people.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for the November surveys should visit the coalition’s website at www.mcch.net.