Agencies continue to work toward combating homelessness in Floyd County

Cathy Aiken-Freeman, United Way’s Interagency Council on Preventing Homelessness staff support, explains the agency’s new focus on prevention through her notes at her office at Rome City Hall on Wednesday.

Working through a difficult time not only has focused efforts to combat poverty and homelessness in Floyd County but also added a sense of resolve.

With HOPE Alliance and its sheltering partners providing services for the homeless specifically, the United Way’s Interagency Council on Preventing Homelessness has shifted its goals toward preventing homelessness and easing the burdens on the shelters during the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.

“We realized we needed to let the shelters do what they do best so we could focus on the prevention side,” ICPH Staff Support Cathy Aiken-Freeman said. “So I sent out a letter to HOPE Alliance and let them know we’re looking forward to working with them in the continuum of care.”

The two groups’ shared goals work toward the same end, Davies Shelters Executive Director, and HOPE Alliance member, Devon Smyth said. For instance, the partnership enabled the creation of a temporary emergency shelter while the state sheltered in place.

“The HOPE Alliance is meeting the needs of individuals who are in immediate crisis in the camps and other places in town,” Smyth said. “We have spent the last nine months building trust. We have brought food, water, coffee, clothing, coats, hygiene items, and laundry kits, to many who are overlooked and on the edges of our community. In many instances, this is the perfect place for all of us to work in our community to serve with the most vulnerable.”

To United Way Executive Director Alli Mitchell prevention is everything.

“The greatest challenge to prevention is our crisis culture,” Mitchell said Thursday. “We respond to fires and celebrate the heroes who put them out, as we should. But the best way to fight a fire is to prevent it from ever starting. We must recognize the value of and invest in the work of preventing homelessness, not just relieving it.”

After already partnering with Good Neighbor Ministries of Rome with a $10,000 boost from United Way to provide rent and utility assistance for those at risk of being evicted, Mitchell and Aiken-Freeman got busy this week sending out their plan for moving forward to community partners and local government leaders.

As part of this shift they also changed the name of the agency from Interagency Council on Poverty and Homelessness to the Interagency Council on Preventing Homelessness and listed specific areas of focus.

“I think that prevention is always an excellent model for service. It allows for systemic change before a crisis,” Smyth said. “With the United Way refocusing their emphasis on prevention, there is the hope of meeting people sooner, before they need shelter.”

Phase one centers on five areas of need identified by the community input already gathered by Aiken-Freeman earlier this year:

♦ Establishing a network of landlords as a first step in creating more affordable housing

♦ Identifying ethical lending resources to avoid sending the low income in deeper debt

♦ Establishing accessible and affordable transportation options such as a nonprofit “Uber-type” service

♦ Coming up with creative childcare options for working parents

♦ Establishing a housing navigator that will find housing options in all price ranges and for a variety of tenants deemed “risky” by some

Phase two will focus on establishing a coordinated entry point that will include a community-led, peer-run program to create connections for those at risk of becoming homeless. A possible location might be Hope’s House, a day resource center at North Fifth Avenue and 12th Street.

And phase three will be establishing accountability with the help of an independent group or agency such as One Community United.

Local Salvation Army Lead Case Worker Cathy Hart said after seeing the new ICPH plan Thursday she’s excited for the future of Rome’s at-risk population.

“What we haven’t had here is a housing navigator and that is huge,” Hart said. “That is something all of us working in the shelters don’t have the time and energy to put into forming. Our biggest challenge besides mental health is finding landlords willing to take a chance.”

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