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Jan 15, 2016

Plan To End Chronic Homelessness Is Making A Difference

Sponsored Content provided by Chris Nelson - President, United Way of the Cape Fear Area

Many local organizations have been involved in the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in the Cape Fear Region. In existence since 2001, and a part of a long-standing United Way initiative, the 10-Year Plan has proven results that are making a difference for those in need, right here in New Hanover County. 
2015 proved to be a hallmark year in addressing homelessness in the Cape Fear area. After 18 months of negotiations, a continuum of care administrator position was created at the Cape Fear Council of Governments on July 1, assuming permanent responsibility for managing community homeless amelioration efforts in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties.
In addition, the former 10-Year Plan executive board was converted to a permanent continuum of care advisory board last July. The impetus for creating this permanent local structure was the passage by Congress of the HEARTH Act of 2009. 
From 2001 to 2008, 10-year plans were the favored process for addressing homelessness and the Cape Fear area entered the plan development process late in the game. In adopting a plan, it joined about 350 other 10-year plan communities already in existence.
Only half of those communities created a structure to implement their plans. For those that didn’t, their plans lie on shelves, collecting dust and largely unfulfilled. Since we have a different story to tell here, let’s take a look back. 
By 2006, it was apparent to elected officials, business leaders and social services professionals that homelessness had become a problem in the Cape Fear area.
At the urging of those social services professionals, the City of Wilmington and New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties worked together in 2007 to support development of the 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and Reduce Homelessness in the Cape Fear Region. That plan was implemented in May 2008, to be managed by United Way of the Cape Fear Area.
The primary objectives of the plan were to facilitate community collaboration to assimilate best practices, make effective use of resources and avoid duplication of efforts – while significantly reducing chronic homelessness. Chronically homeless people are those who are both severely disabled and persistently homeless.
During our seven-year implementation phase, we made considerable progress toward both ending chronic homelessness and reducing general homelessness. Overall homelessness documented by the federally mandated annual count has been reduced by more than 50 percent throughout our three-county area. Chronic homelessness – involving long-term homeless, disabled people – has been reduced by an even more impressive 65 percent.  
Our first milestone was securing a $1.3 million federal grant for Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing. That three-year, recession-era grant served 724 people in 217 households, preventing homelessness among low-income, at-risk renters and re-housing those already homeless by getting them in to modest, rental housing.    
The cornerstone program of our efforts to end chronic homelessness has been our SOAR caseworker program. SOAR dedicates a full-time caseworker to representing chronically homeless people as they navigate the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability application process. That application process is complex, so complicated the Social Security Administration estimates that unrepresented chronically homeless clients achieve success only about 15 percent of the time. And the path to success can take years.
But our SOAR program turned those figures upside down. In fact, nearly 75 percent of applicants represented by our SOAR caseworker achieve success in an average of about 135 days.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center is the biggest single financial winner in the SOAR process. It has derived hundreds of thousands of dollars in retroactive Medicaid reimbursements it had previously written off as indigent care. Since 2012, NHRMC – a SOAR partner from the beginning – has underwritten the ongoing cost of the project. Because the previously untapped Medicaid reimbursements have provided roughly a 3-to-1 return on investment to the hospital, NHRMC recently increased its funding for SOAR to $100,000 for the current year to add caseworker capacity.
But the biggest winners are obviously the SOAR clients – more than 280 of them to date. They share nearly $2.5 million a year in annual payout – as well as entitlement to Medicaid health insurance coverage. Access to that reliable income stream has enabled many of our SOAR clients to acquire modest rental housing locally and in less expensive areas, providing the catalyst for a significant reduction in our chronic homeless numbers.
The 10-Year Plan has been involved in other areas, too.
A volunteer mentor program called Circles of Support stabilized 26 previously homeless people in newly acquired housing.
And a collaboration that grew out of the 10-Year Plan has secured $60,000 in grant funding from the Cape Fear Memorial Foundation for the disAbility Resource Center to establish a pilot Homeless Medical Respite Care program. That program allows homeless people to recuperate inexpensively while reducing costs to the health care community.
And with 10-Year Plan support, several new permanent supportive housing developments have come online or are in development stages in New Hanover County, including Greenville Trace, Jervey Loop and the recently-approved Lakeside Partners’ 40 units of permanent supportive housing in Wilmington.
Christopher L. Nelson is president of the United Way of the Cape Fear Area, a local nonprofit organization. Since 1941, the United Way of the Cape Fear Area has worked alongside local agencies in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties to assist them in providing substantial and sustainable change within the Cape Fear area. To learn more about the United Way of the Cape Fear Region, go to or call (910) 798-3900.

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