November 1 marks the start of Homelessness Awareness Month. Having a new day and a new month, we can reflect on new opportunities; new beginnings.
I have had the privilege of being the Executive Director of HomeAid Orange County for 20 years and it has been quite an unexpected and fulfilling journey for me. I was initially drawn to HomeAid’s work because I connected with a group of people in the home building industry who were equally passionate about their profession and giving back to the community. From the beginning of my career at HomeAid, I quickly found that these talented individuals and companies were united in the mission to end homelessness.
Homebuilders, service providers, and contributors at a framewalk. 2013.
Homelessness is an issue that affects the entire community and, in Orange County, it has become a crisis that is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. This is a crisis that impacts every aspect of our community, from hospitals and law enforcement to businesses and personal lives. According to a recent study by UC Irvine, the impacts of homelessness cost over $300 million annually. While homelessness may seem like an insurmountable problem, I believe we have the resources and capacity in Orange County to solve homelessness.
Homelessness Awareness Month is intended to help the community understand not only why homelessness is a crisis that affects us all, but also who are the people who experience homelessness. It is important to recognize that those who are experiencing homelessness come from all walks of life. While many of us immediately picture a disheveled veteran with mental illness or an individual with a drug dependency, the reality is that the majority of those experiencing homelessness are regular, hardworking individuals or families who encountered a hardship, such as losing a job. Some of the specific populations that we are highlighting this month are youth, veterans, and families. By first acknowledging that we have a crisis, we can then work collectively towards a solution.
Youth, veterans, and families are among the majority of people experiencing homelessness.
To end homelessness, you have to have housing. If you don't, then everything begins to fall apart for those who are experiencing homelessness. Many of the problems that are associated with homelessness begin to dissipate when you start with adequate housing. For people experiencing homelessness, having a safe place is a new beginning for pursuit of a job, training, education, medical help, and so much more.
So what kind of housing will end homelessness? The holistic solution is known as the continuum of care, which includes a portfolio consisting of emergency shelters, transitional/bridge housing, and permanent supportive housing. Orange County is still in the early beginnings of building a robust continuum.
When an individual or family initially finds themselves on the street, one of the first places they can go to is an emergency shelter. There is still a significant need for more emergency shelter housing in Orange County, which is why in 2017 HomeAid Orange County built the Family CareCenter in the City of Orange. The Family CareCenter supports families through the first 30 to 60 days while they are seeking a permanent housing solution. Many of these families are successfully placed back into their own housing through rapid rehousing resources. Others with greater needs find their next phase in the continuum of care in transitional/bridge housing, where individuals and families can live for three months up to two years. For those who require long-term support, there is permanent supportive housing.
Adequate housing is a beginning to ending homelessness. The solution will require service providers, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and the community to work together. I want people to know that there are solutions being worked on and that you have an opportunity to make a difference. Over the next several weeks, ask yourself, "What can I do to give back?" Through our 30 ways in 30 days Homelessness Awareness Month campaign, we will be providing opportunities for you to help end homelessness. To learn more, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media.