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The Fredericksburg Regional Continuum of Care’s (CoC) Unsheltered Homelessness Initiative aims to functionally end unsheltered homelessness. The CoC is the federally-mandated coalition responsible for planning and implementing homeless services throughout Planning District 16, the Counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania, and Stafford and the City of Fredericksburg.
With funding from the City of Fredericksburg and Mary Washington Healthcare (MWHC), the CoC is undertaking a two-year pilot to move closer to the initiative’s goal. This effort moves households experiencing unsheltered homelessness from the street to permanent housing and highlights the community benefits associated with focusing resources on housing the most vulnerable in our community. The City, MWHC, and CoC are excited to report that the pilot has met its year-one target of helping four previously-unsheltered households move into their own homes.
“In 2016 Fredericksburg City Council identified a regional housing and homeless plan as one of their Priorities for their 2036 Vision Statement,” said Tim Baroody, City Manager. “Our staff was tasked by City Council to establish a regional working group and identify solutions based on successful best practices in other jurisdictions. And that’s what we set out to do.”
With that in mind, the City of Fredericksburg approached the CoC in 2017 to discuss concerns about homeless encampments within City limits, asking what could be done to address the issue. In response, the CoC developed strategies to target new housing resources to the unsheltered population by expanding existing systems. The CoC estimated that a total of $484,700 per year in additional funding, above and beyond what is already provided to other homeless service strategies, would be needed to fully meet the needs of the estimated 73 people who experience long periods of unsheltered homelessness in our community each year. This cost includes housing location services, case management, and rental subsidies. The CoC estimated that 47 individuals would need short-term support, at a cost of about $5,000 per person, and that 26 individuals would need long-term support, at a cost of about $10,000 per person. At the City’s request to make this a regional effort, the CoC requested the funding from the five jurisdictions of Planning District 16. Lacking a favorable response, the City of Fredericksburg called for a smaller-scale pilot to test the strategies.
The City of Fredericksburg and Mary Washington Healthcare each committed $20,000 toward the two year, $40,000 pilot, which targets short-term housing assistance and case management to the most vulnerable, unsheltered households in our community to help them move into permanent housing. The funding is administered by the George Washington Regional Commission, the CoC’s Lead Agency and Micah Ecumenical Ministries, the community’s street outreach provider, is providing the housing and case management services.
Xavier Richardson, MWHC Sr. Vice President, says, “Recent studies have shown that medical care is only responsible for no more than 20% of healthy outcomes; the remaining 80% or more is impacted by social determinants of health such as access to safe and affordable housing, education, transportation, public safety, and economic resources. We are proud to support this very innovative approach to homelessness which will have a significant impact on the health of the individuals served.”
Since beginning the work in January 2019, Micah has helped four households (six people total) move into their own homes using these pilot funds. Three of the participants were chronically homeless, meaning they had been homeless for more than a year. All of the participants have disabilities, making their ability to find and maintain housing without assistance difficult. Since being housed, four of the participants have been able to increase their income through employment or Social Security benefits.
Tim Best, a program participant who had lived outside for about a year and is in a wheelchair, explained what housing means to him. “We have a place to live and it’s a whole lot better than being outside. I have a bed to sleep in, a place we can cook. I was actually on my way home from one of the dinners the other night and a storm came up with lightning and thunder louder than anything I’ve heard in my life. I thought, you know, it's good to be inside and not getting electrocuted and rained on."
The CoC and Micah have already started to identify the next four households to assist with year-two pilot funds.
“Ten years ago, we lived in a community where politicians and those in power looked at people on the street and assumed no solutions were possible,” states Meghann Cotter, Executive Servant Leader of Micah Ecumenical Ministries. “The City of Fredericksburg and Mary Washington Healthcare’s commitment to housing resources now demonstrates their seriousness about effecting real change and solutions for both the community and those in great need.” “In just the first year, their contributions to the community’s housing first efforts has literally brought people out of the woods and away from doorways, offering them safe stable homes,” Cotter continues. “It is innovative investments like this that are working around the country and here in Fredericksburg, and we hope that other local governments in our planning district will get on board to aid their residents as well.”
The CoC is already planning to continue these efforts beyond the pilot, and will request funding, above and beyond existing allocations to local agencies for homeless services, from the five jurisdictions of Planning District 16 as well as other community partners to scale-up the model established in the pilot starting in July 2021.
For more information about the Unsheltered Homelessness Initiative here in the Fredericksburg area, or to donate or partner to help end homelessness, please visit fredericksburgcoc.org.