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Councilmembers Want Immediate Funding To House Most Vulnerable Homeless

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 11/25/2013, 11:35am  ET

Councilmember George Leventhal talks about finding housing for homeless people at an event last summerA few Montgomery County Councilmembers are hoping for about $650,000 out of the county’s budget to house 15 medically vulnerable homeless people.

The immediate funding request stems the recent 100,000 Homes Campaign survey of homeless living on the streets throughout the county. A group of nonprofit workers, government officials and volunteers fanned out across the county earlier this month to interview 369 homeless individuals from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.

The group found 43 percent of those interviewed are “medically vulnerable,” meaning they should be prioritized for permanent supportive housing, a homeless prevention model known as “housing first.”

Councilmembers George Leventhal, Craig Rice and Nancy Navarro are asking for a special appropriation of $649,325 out of the county’s reserves to immediately place 15 homeless individuals for 18 months that would include necessary case-work and staff support.

Of the 369 homeless individuals surveyed, 47 percent reported at least one serious health condition and 23 percent were charactereized as tri-morbid, meaning they have a mental health diagnosis, physical health condition and a history of substance abuse. Those individuals, on average, have been homeless for six years.

Rice said he realized the immediate nature of the problem when he encountered a homeless man at a bus stop in 34-degree weather.

“He was in a t-shirt and was coughing and hacking,” Rice said. “There’s no question to me that that man is not going to survive this winter if we don’t intervene and get him help. It is life or death.”

In the past, Montgomery County has taken a more traditional approach to helping homeless individuals that includes shelters, transitional housing and counseling as a means to being placed in supportive, permanent housing.

Those in homeless prevention work worry the permanent supporting housing is not going to the most vulnerable.

In 2011, officials at the nonprofit Bethesda Cares said not enough of the most chronically homeless were allowed into a new Bethesda permanent housing facility.

Almost all of the residents moved in from shelters or other transitional housing. The county’s Housing Opportunities Commission said it didn’t have the resources to provide the counseling or support necessary to help the homeless right off the street. They also said neighbors of the new building were concerned about safety.

“It’s like trickle-down housing theory. Let’s give to people who can apply first, then we can get to the people who really need it. That never works,” Mendez told us after the 100,000 Homes Campaign last year. “The people who really need it never get to apply. They don’t even know where the office is.”

The $650,000 would be specified for medically vulnerable, chronically homeless individuals.

There will be a public hearing on the budget request at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at the Council Office Building in Rockville.