Ashland's homelessness plan behind schedule
ASHLAND, May 03, 2009 (The Daily Independent - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A coalition of local nonprofit organizations is entering the third year of implementing Ashland's 10-year Plan to Minimize Homelessness.
Officials say progress is not happening as quickly as they had hoped, and point to the current economic crisis that is increasing needs but putting an even greater squeeze on already limited funding. The loss of a key city organizer is slowing progress on the plan, which was launched in late 2007.
The plan focuses on four areas: housing, education and employment, medical services and basic needs, and policy and care management. It focuses on collaboration between agencies to share limited resources to address the root causes of homelessness.
Trish Hall, executive director of CAReS, which serves as the intake agency in Ashland for families seeking all sorts of assistance, said her agency along with the Shelter of Hope, Salvation Army, Safe Harbor and River Cities Harvest are all seeing a rise in the number of requests for assistance at the same time their budgets are becoming stagnant or decreasing.
In 2008, Hall said the agency served 3,182, including 2,235 adults and 947 children. Through April 14, Hall said CAReS had already made referrals for 1,207, or 829 adults and 378 children.
"We're going to have a tremendous increase this year if this keeps up," she said.
CAReS, which added three case managers to its staff last year as a key element of the 10-year plan, is charged with entering those who seek assistance into a state database called the Kentucky Homeless Management Information System. The database also allows agencies to track services received.
Hall said the database also allows all the agencies with access to it to verify clients' situations once they are referred for assistance. The caseworkers work with clients to address some of the issues that bring them in for services, she said.
Shelter of Hope Executive Director Debbie Sivis said the HMIS system has been working well, but like any new policy, took a while to perfect.
"It's been a help to us getting the basic information in," she said, "Then we add what we do once they are already in there."
Sivis said beyond the database and new caseworkers the 10-year-plan is being implemented slower than anticipated. She said all the various agencies and the city continue to be committed to it despite funding and leadership setbacks and are using it as a guide for the services they provide.
"We're doing little things that are fulfilling that, but we need to all get together and see how we are," she said. "We're trying to get our heads together to see where we are on the services so we know where we are on the plan. Things are being implemented more or less on an individual basis."
Sivis said the July departure of Greg Rice, Ashland's director of planning and community development, significantly affected progress on the plan. Rice spearheaded the plan, creating the interagency task force that crafted it.
Rice was not immediately replaced. Instead city leaders restructured the department. Mike Miller, the new director of planning and community development, was in charge of property maintenance and building codes before taking his current position. He acknowledged the plan had been put on the back burner during the last year and said he is still being brought up to speed on it.
Miller said despite the delay, the city remains committed to the initiative, which has been held up as a model for others to follow. "We will continue to have a commitment to it," he said. "We have a very vested interest in the plan."
Ashland officials have also indicated they intend to direct more of Ashland's annual allotment of federal Community Development Block Grant funds toward capital projects and away from nonprofit agencies. The 2009 action plan does designate money for a variety of projects that are associated with the 10-year plan, including $75,000 for the construction of public restrooms at the Neighborhood complex.
The complex, which will eventually house CAReS, River Cities Harvest, Community Kitchen, United Presbyterian Ministries and the Dressing Room, is at the center of the plan. Only CAReS and River Cities Harvest are in the building, which is still being renovated. More than $600,000 is still needed to finish the project, officials said.
The CDBG plans also directs $2,500 each to the Salvation Army and Safe Harbor, while the Shelter of Hope will receive $6,500 and CAReS will be given $60,000 to fund its three case managers.
Despite the setbacks, Sivis said agencies in Ashland do a wonderful job of pulling resources together to meet immediate needs and are looking toward the future.
The Boyd County Interagency Council, she said, is exploring setting up a free health clinic for residents without health insurance.
"We all do work together very much. I don't think the city is aware how strong the collaboration between the agencies is. We try to figure out how we can best help any family that we can come across," she said.
Hall also shared that sentiment. "It's a tribute to the support we have from the community and the city," she said.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.
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