Three individuals, each from a different community partnerwho took part in Omaha, Nebraska’s Point-in-Time count, shared their experiences in this blog.
Introduction on the Omaha Point in Time Count by Erin Porterfield, Director of MACCH
The Metropolitan Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) held the Point-in-Time count on January 30, 2013 between 8:00 PM and midnight. For the unsheltered count, more than 40 volunteers were separated into teams with a trained outreach worker as team leader. These outreach workers conduct outreach weekly and administer the Vulnerability Index for the count as they would during a typical outreach. As part of the annual count, we invite community leaders to join us to boost understanding of our process and more importantly, to meet the people we find experiencing homelessness.
Our community selects the evening time period hoping the people we find will accept a ride to shelter instead of braving the biting temperature of 15 degrees that night. The region covered by the count includes Douglas and Sarpy Counties in Nebraska and Pottawattomie County in Iowa. The region comprises a metro area population of 634,233 with more than 1 percent (at least 7,333 people) of whom experience homelessness annually. During this year’s count we found 19 people living outside ( a decrease of two people from 2011), two of whom asked to be transported to shelter.
A reflection by Craig Howell, Chief Service Officer for the City of Omaha, who works closely with Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle.
On January 30, 2013, I met with Erin Porterfield of the Metropolitan Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH), along with many other volunteers from various community organizations providing social services to our community. Ann Smolsky of the Nebraska AIDS Project assigned volunteers into teams. Each team would survey an area of Omaha that had a history of people living unsheltered. The volunteers introduced each other and then Ann gave instruction on conducting a count per HUD’s guidelines, how that data would be compiled, and the importance of the data gathering for HUD. Ann also instructed volunteers on the importance of determining housing status and vulnerability of those found, and taking action to help transfer and admit individuals to shelters as well as distribute blankets, mittens, and hats.
I travelled with Earl Redrick, Omaha HUD Field Office Director and Ann Smolsky. We initially found a woman at the downtown branch of the public library. Erin Porterfield drove separately to meet us at the library and personally transported the woman to Stephens Center. During our interaction with her, the woman appeared very thankful for the assistance.
Afterward, we travelled to a homeless encampment on the north edge of downtown near railroad tracks. There was a team of volunteers there talking with three men and one woman who needed warmth, as volunteers found them huddling together in one tent to help stay warm. The volunteers distributed blankets. They proudly showed how they use a trash can and wood from surrounding trees to create a grill where they cook meals. Just blocks from a homeless shelter, they preferred their own encampment.
We left the tent community and travelled to a Laundromat where a team of volunteers spotted a youth experiencing homelessness. The Youth Emergency Services (YES) volunteers went to meet the youth that they had known through previous contact, but the youth left before YES could reach them. We left the Laundromat and arrived at Stephen Center. At Stephen Center we witnessed Ann Smolsky and LaFonda Tanner of Stephen Center comfort and admit a homeless gentleman whose feet were suffering frost bite and were in pain. The respectfulness, humanity and dialogue of listening shown by Ann and LaFonda were beautiful and instructive.
We finally approached back to the meeting point from which we started. The teams were coming back for a snack and to discuss various findings. Some team members were going back out for a second survey. A new team of volunteers were also coming to continue the Point-in-Time count later through the night.
I left the evening convinced that the team was gathering a sound Point-in-Time count. I also left the evening aware that we were blessed with well trained and committed social service providers and volunteers who work tirelessly to lift up our fellow brothers and sisters who need shelter, food, and hope. It was a night of data gathering but, more importantly, it was a night of service.
Postscript from LaFonda Tanner, Emergency Shelter Director at the Stephen Center
Mr. Craig Howell said it best in his blog, “It was a night of data gathering but, more importantly, it was a night of service.” That simple phrase was a great way to summarize such an amazing experience. As a novice to this annual effort, it was engaging to see how our community collectively worked together that night. Not one person was CEO, Director, or Specialist that evening, we were all just concerned citizens banding together for a common cause.
The team that the Stephen Center Emergency Shelter was assigned to was phenomenal; it consisted of volunteers from various community and federal agencies. We travelled throughout our designated section of the city and searched high and low (literally) for anyone in need of shelter. No bridge, underpass, abandoned home, park or wooded areas were off limits from our crew that night.
After a couple of hours of searching without finding anyone in need of shelter, the team decided to follow up on a lead provided by a community outreach worker. This information led us to a nearby Burger King restaurant, where we were practically greeted by a warm spirited, albeit cold and hungry man named Mr. David D. At the time, Mr. D was one of the most vulnerable homeless men in the city. He had been chronically homeless for a number of years and had lost several toes on both feet to frostbite attributed to the conditions faced during his homelessness. This is the gentleman Mr. Howell writes about in his reflection and I am pleased to provide a status update on his progress.
Mr. D. was more than open to dialogue and in spite of voluntarily living on the streets for a long period of time, he was open to coming in out of the cold for shelter. Our team wasted no time, in fear that he might have a change of heart, in a matter of minutes our team got Mr. D transported to the Stephen Center. At the shelter he received a cup of coffee, clean clothes, a warm bed, but most of all Mr. D. received respect and support.
Most of our chronically homeless men find it difficult to give up their perceived autonomy and peers to come “inside,” but this was not the case with Mr. D. He adjusted very well to the shelter and with hands-on assistance from various community and medical services he was able to stabilize in a short period of time. When I came into work the next day Mr. D had a haircut and was clean shaven; I almost didn’t recognize him as the man from the night before! However, it was his eyes that familiarized me with him; they were full of hope and earnestness, just as they had been the night before.
I could add many more praises and compliments about Mr. D because he is such a wonderful human being with fortitude and perseverance, but for the sake of time I will fast forward to his current situation. Just a month later, Mr. D is now housed in his own apartment with a temporary subsidy provided by a local agency. He is also working with a support worker on receiving disability benefits to sustain his housing long term.
Most importantly Mr. D now walks with a renewed spirit (and a new cane!), and has the support he needs to sustain his housing. This is possible because of the collective efforts of all of the entities that make up the Metropolitan Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH). Thank you on the behalf of the Stephen Center for this experience and the opportunity to serve such a wonderful person!