This is a guest post from a fellow Delawarean trying her hand at blogging. Her pen name is Bleeding Heart, and she is focusing her first post on a very important issue that we too often ignore.
The Point in Time (PIT) Count is a one night count of the people experiencing homelessness in our communities. The 2015 PIT Count in Delaware was conducted on January 29, 2015. These people can be in shelters, motels paid by voucher or wandering the streets. On that date, 950 people were homeless in Delaware. This does not count the number of people who “couch surf,” staying with family or friends for short periods of time before moving to someone else’s home. On this night in 2015, 227 children under the age of 18 were homeless. Most prevalent among the homeless population is a history of incarceration, at 40% of the adult population. The second most prevalent characteristic is people with disabling conditions (mental health issues, substance abuse, developmental disabilities, etc).
While we have many shelters in Delaware, they can only be accessed through a centralized intake system called the Homeless Planning Council. Whereas social workers and other care managers used to be able to call the shelters and arrange assistance for their clients, now the homeless person has to call this centralized intake number and refer themselves, or a case worker can make the initial call, but they have to be able to provide contact information for the homeless person.
There are many problems with this system. The homeless person is required to call this intake number daily, they have to be able to provide a phone number for return calls and the intake office is only open Monday through Friday, 8:00 – 4:00. If the homeless person calls within those hours, their phone call will be returned that day. Not surprisingly, many homeless people do not have phones, they are too disorganized due to the disabling conditions and they quickly give up which knocks them off the waiting list. People often become homeless after 4:00 and/or on weekends. Those people will not have their call returned until the next business day, leaving them homeless for up to 72 hours before they can even enter the intake system.
Many of the shelters have admission requirements, i.e., gender based, must be sober, can only have daytime employment and it cannot be under the table work, must have serious and persistent mental illness, cannot have certain criminal histories, etc.. Even if a shelter is located, the person must have ID, which in itself is a challenge. You need an address for an ID. In order to get an ID you also need a social security card and a birth certificate. Sounds simple? Try doing it without a dime to your name, no transportation and, often times, the lack of skills required to obtain these documents. This does not even address the fact they cannot get Medicaid for the same reasons, so health problems go untreated.
While we know there is no easy fix to homelessness, especially chronic homelessness, we cannot continue to tell ourselves we are addressing it as a state. One thing learned through efforts to end Veteran homelessness in the country is that commitments from, and cross-sector coordination among, state and local leaders and elected officials can create the urgency necessary to achieve an end to homelessness. The same is true for ending chronic homelessness. Governors, mayors, and county leaders can convene the appropriate partners and drive accountability. They won’t do it if we don’t hold them accountable.
This is not only a matter of doing the humane and morally right thing, it is a matter of finance. The homeless are cycling in and out of psychiatric and medical hospitals and the state is paying those costs. In 2016, DHHS spent $708,000 at Rockford Center, $853,000 at Dover Behavioral Health, and $771,000 at Meadowood Hospital, for a grand total of $2,332,000. Any staff person in these facilities will tell you the key to ending the recycling admissions is to be able to locate appropriate housing. At an average rent of $1000/mo., a family or individual can be housed for twelve months at half the price going to private psychiatric hospitals. They could then have the address required to obtain ID, apply for benefits, obtain employment and begin to garner a sense of safety and security, which could only improve the outcomes in treating their various disabilities. I did not even calculate the cost of the re-incarceration of those who cannot handle the homelessness and end up back in jail.
We must do more.