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Study finds need for coordination with homeless service providers

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Sonia Pandit, CEO of the Pandit Group, discusses the study her company conducted on Cecil County’s homeless population. Her recommendations included a coordinated point of entry, a strong homeless/eviction program, and expansion of emergency shelter options.

CECIL COUNTY — A recent homelessness study has given service providers and their partners a clearer image of who they serve, and recommends increased coordination and expanding emergency shelter options.

The study, conducted by the Pandit Group over fiscal year 2018, shows that there are approximately 300 people experiencing homelessness over the course of one year. The average person experiencing homelessness in Cecil County is a white man who is not a veteran and has not been the victim of domestic violence.

That number came from surveys from 29 homeless persons, eight county service providers and interviews with stakeholders like law enforcement, first responders, government officials and health providers.

While 300 people may seem like a large number, Cecil County Health Department director of special populations Gwen Parrack said that the Mary Randall Center had counted every person that came in for services.

“That gives us a much better confidence than we didn’t have before,” said at a presentation for service providers on Oct. 1.

“Bear in mind that means they’re living on the street, or in places not intended for human habitation or emergency shelter already.”

Sonia Pandit, CEO of the Pandit Group, also said that service providers estimated in their surveys the homeless population was 287.

Data shows the average person experiencing homelessness has health insurance, as well as access to a working phone and internet, and eats two or more meals a day. They have also gone hungry for less than five days in the past month.

Prudently, Pandit’s study also showed that Cecil County’s services are not attracting people — as many have feared. Of the 29 people surveyed, 60% said they were homeless for less than a year and less than half had lived in the county for 10 years.

Most county nonprofit service providers have up to five staff members, but individual donations make up the greatest cumulative percentage of funding sources for them.

Key recommendations include creating a coordinated entry system to consolidate services and to increase coordination between agencies.

“The idea is that we want to minimize the time it takes for someone to access the emergency shelter and services, and get them into intake assessment, and minimize any time that’s spent in services,” Pandit said.

Within a smaller community, one agency can serve as the point of entry site which could be an answer to duplication of services.

That piece may be put into place soon, as the Cecil County Department of Community Services recently applied for $380,000 in Maryland Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Homeless Initiative Funds.

If the application is approved, the money would be used over the next two years to help staff Meeting Ground, a nonprofit that has been serving the county’s homeless community for 40 years. The influx of funds would put it well on its way to become a coordinated point of entry.

Most of the homeless population in Cecil County use the Mary Randall Center or the Paris Foundation, the study shows.

Some of the CDBG funds would also be put aside for emergency shelter assistance. The county does not have a dedicated emergency shelter, where if someone becomes homeless that day they can obtain access to a bed for the night.

In the winter months, Meeting Ground and several churches step up to house people in a rotating shelter. And when temperatures drop below 13 degrees, the health department offers motel vouchers.

“If you don’t have a coordinated point of entry and if you don’t have some form of emergency shelter, then you don’t have much of a system,” said Earl Grey, county chief of housing under DSC. “This application is the first step, and we’ll take it from there.”

While the county and health department officials have not determined how that money is used for emergency shelter assistance, the study also revealed a need for the county to expand options, specifically for rapid rehousing and emergency shelters.

Rapid rehousing combines movement and rental assistance with case management involved that has a two-year term, while emergency shelters are designed so that someone could have access to that same day, with daily check in and check out.

Seven out of 99 transitional housing beds in the county are available to its predominant demographic of white single men, Pandit said.

Pandit also recommended that the county and service providers look into strengthening the homeless/eviction prevention programs in order to stop people from entering services and to remain stable as well. A coordinated body to oversee funding so the service providers can diversify funding to match state and federal funding was also recommended.

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