GUILFORD COUNTY — The Guilford County Board of Commissioners want to take an unprecedented approach to the chronic crisis of homelessness by leveraging funding and services to reach people on the margins of society.
On the second and final day of their annual retreat on Friday, the commissioners discussed creating one place where homeless people could tap into a range of resources to turn around their lives.
Board Chairman Skip Alston, who has spearheaded the effort, said he and other commissioners realize that the county can’t tackle the campaign on its own. The effort would need to include support from the federal and state governments, nonprofits and the private sector, Alston said during the retreat at Bur-Mil Park in Greensboro.
The county isn’t at a point where it can place a fiscal price tag on implementing the idea.
The concept that the commissioners are considering would establish one place where homeless people coping with different issues could receive comprehensive assistance.
The help at the central location could involve rehabilitation help after discharge from a hospital, assistance with transitional housing, access to mental health and addiction services, financial aid for deposits for apartments or other housing, and assistance with utility payments to avoid evictions.
In a broad sense, the commissioners want to create one place for services that would prevent so many homeless people from falling through the cracks in the system.
One approach might entail linking a homeless person who has complex needs to a crisis response team made up of specialists with different expertise. Another approach would involve private sector vouchers and public transportation partnerships to ensure the lack of a car doesn’t keep someone from drifting into homelessness because they can’t reach a job site or medical clinic.
Commissioner Mary Beth Murphy said the one-place concept offers a chance to reset the approach to homelessness in a fundamental fashion.
“This sounds hopeful,” Murphy said. “It creates opportunities for change that couldn’t happen otherwise.”
Murphy said having one place for homeless assistance reflects the recent success of the Guilford County Family Justice Center, which established a central clearinghouse in High Point and Greensboro to serve victims of domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse. Since establishing the center nine years ago, the county has received national acclaim for the comprehensive approach.
The county’s effort to address homelessness comes amid the ongoing work of the Guilford County Homelessness Task Force that includes representatives from across the county.
During the discussion at the retreat, Alston said he and other commissioners realize the scope and complexities of trying to address homelessness in a comprehensive way.
“We have to build this plane while we are flying it,” he said.
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