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Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Board to prevent homelessness passes new action plan

The board fighting to end homelessness in Carroll County passed its second annual action plan, a list of strategies to help accomplish the group's overarching mission.

Similar to the 2012 to 2013 plan, the Circle of Caring Homelessness Board has a list of five objectives - promote collaborative leadership, increase access to stable and affordable housing, enlargen economic security and self-sufficiency, improve health and stability and retool the homeless crisis response system.

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Each objective comes with a list of strategies and ways to measure successes. The 2013 to 2014 plan is more ambitious than the last, with more focus and more approaches, according to chairwoman Pat Goldberg.

The board is composed of more than 100 individuals from nearly 60 public, private and nonprofit agencies and organizations. It has a Ten Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which board co-chair Rita Zimmerman said was completed in 2010. But there was no yearly plan to ensure they were on the right track.

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"Even if you have a list of best practices and you're following them and you're using evidence-based strategies, they may or may not be the ones that are going to work the best at your local community," Goldberg said. "And you have to be prepared to change course and [crafting] the action plan on an annual basis allows that to happen."

Items completed from last year's action plan include creating a flier about ways to receive help paying for rent, electricity, heating and more. It was sent to organizations and landlords to disseminate to those facing eviction, according to Goldberg.

Additionally, the group talked to the eight Carroll municipalities' city managers about affordable housing and making sure there was enough rental housing in their jurisdictions. The board also secured an additional housing unit for a chronically homeless resident, according to Goldberg.

Both Goldberg and Zimmerman pointed out the additions to help improve Carroll residents' health and stability as crucial new items to this year's action plan, which was effective after the board passed the 18-page document at its Tuesday morning meeting.

"That is a part that we had missing," said Zimmerman, who is also the Department of Citizens Services' deputy director, "and it is a vital part for those who are less fortunate to have access to health care."

Additions include providing education on changes to mental health, substance abuse and health care in general due to the Affordable Care Act.

For the first time last year, several Circle of Caring Board members gave about eight presentations informing mainly faith-based organizations about homelessness in Carroll and what the group is doing to combat it, according to Goldberg.

The new plan aims to expand these PowerPoint presentations, called Collaboration Works, to businesses and civic organizations, which Goldberg said is crucial.

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Presenting to others not necessarily plugged into local agencies or nonprofits has helped get the word out, said Cindy Parr, board member and Human Services Programs of Carroll County's executive director.

"The people who are in the thick of it, the day-to-day, they know what's going on because that's what we do," Parr said. "But to get out and educate and inform and make those aware who wouldn't otherwise have any reason to know, that was a big difference."

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Many of the new action plan's strategies are the same as last year for a distinct purpose: "There are tasks so big that you just have to keep chipping away at them," Goldberg said.

She pointed to increasing access to affordable housing as one of those constant goals. There's constant need for single occupancy rooms, which is akin to a boarding house situation, Zimmerman said, where a room is rented and a kitchen is shared.

Some of the action plan's tasks are ones that have been identified at a federal level. Opening Doors Across America is a plan the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness crafted and invites local jurisdictions to adopt. The Circle of Caring Homelessness Board has adopted it, and these tasks include preventing and ending veteran homelessness by 2015 and homelessness in families and youth by 2020.

Homelessness declined 20 percent in the latest Carroll point-in-time count, which measures the numbers living on the streets, in shelters and in transitional housing facilities on a single day every year. There were 134 homeless persons counted this year, compared to 167 in 2012.

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Additionally, the Circle of Caring Homelessness Board follows the performance measures outlined in the HEARTH Act, or Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing, passed at the federal level in 2009. This includes the overall goal of returning a homeless individual to housing within 30 days.

It took three months and 75 individuals to help craft the plan. And this sort of inter-agency collaboration doesn't happen everywhere, Parr said.

"Carroll County is so unique in its ability to collaborate and partner agencies and organizations, how we do that," Parr said. "You don't find that in many communities across the state or the nation. We are a very special county in that respect."


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