In its Annual Report to the Community on Wednesday, the Fox Cities Housing Coalition zeroed in on the root causes and extent of homelessness in the Fox Valley, and specifically identified opportunities to more effectively meet the needs of individuals and families struggling with homelessness and/or housing instability.
Coalition representatives joined leaders of partnering organizations, sponsors and supporters, business leaders, government officials and other concerned residents at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel to hear the findings from Project RUSH, a research project that surveyed more than 600 individuals currently experiencing homelessness or at risk for becoming homeless. This past April the volunteer efforts of some 125 concerned community members made the data collection for the project possible.
Project RUSH – Research to Understand and Solve Homelessness – sought to gather and analyze data that other surveys and processes had not been able to do; that is, to more clearly identify how many individuals and families in the Fox Cities are on the edge of homelessness, and what service providers and the community at large can do to prevent future homelessness for these types of families.
“The Fox Cities Housing Coalition has worked collaboratively for years to ensure all of the residents of the Fox Cities have access to safe and affordable housing,” says Chris Lashock, current president of the Fox Cities Housing Coalition and client services coordinator at Homeless Connections shelter.
“Demand for spots in our local shelters and housing programs continues to grow from year to year. In addition to serving those who have fallen into homelessness, we realized that we need to better understand the population we serve – specifically how to prevent people from needing our shelter.
“Once we went ‘up-stream’ to learn more about the near homeless we realized there was likely a lot in common among the clients that many agencies see,” Lashock says. “And there were likely services that may be needed within our community to address the needs more effectively.
“With the increase in the demand for services, we also realized that in order to make a significant impact within the community, we had to try something new to help guide our strategic planning.
“This project has provided the coalition an opportunity to work together through a truly unique and innovative approach to addressing the issues of homelessness, housing and poverty. The new data and the strategic analysis of the study have put the coalition in a position to develop truly innovative and collaborative solutions to those issues,” he says.
According to the coalition, by understanding this “front end” to homelessness, the community will be able to create and implement strategies that will set efforts on a path to not only end homelessness for more families and individuals, but also substantially prevent homelessness by addressing some of the most significant barriers to maintaining stable housing.
Financial support for the project was anchored by a grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs, the J.J. Keller Foundation and other community partners. Additional support was provided by the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Thrivent Financial Foundation, United Way Fox Cities, and the Fox Cities Housing Coalition. In-kind support was provided by the Volunteer Center of Northeast Wisconsin and Spectra Print.
The presentation highlighted a key shift in how the coalition views and understands homelessness. The pathway from housing instability to self-sufficiency does not progress in a step-by-step process, the report states, but rather that individuals progress and/or regress from various housing situations based on their current circumstances and their ability to navigate those circumstances at that time in their lives.
The survey focused on four categories of homelessness: unsheltered individuals living on the street or locations not intended for extended stays, such as hotels or motels; sheltered -- people in temporary or transitional housing arrangements; doubled up -- those living with other families or individuals for economic reasons, and precariously housed -- those living in their own home or apartment but at risk of eviction, and/or paying such a high amount for housing that other basic needs such as food, utilities, clothing, health care, etc. are unaffordable.
The report highlighted five significant trends or “risk factors” that contribute toward housing instability and, if left unsupported or untreated, can increase an individual’s vulnerability to becoming homeless.
Factors impacting homelessness covered in the survey included physical health, mental health and substance use, traumatic and adverse experiences (such as childhood trauma, environmental factors, current experiences, out-of-home placements and social isolation), employment and education. Data also depicts Fox Cities households by size, annual household income, housing cost burden, and rental unit supply and demand.
“The 30-plus organizations that make up the FCHC do a great job in providing both housing and supportive services to the homeless and near-homeless population,” says Mary Parsons, executive director of LEAVEN. “But more collaboration is needed to harness all the resources available if we are going to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness and minimize the impact of homelessness in our community.
“Project RUSH provides us the information we need to develop strategies that move from ‘treatment’ to ‘prevention’ of homelessness.”
Project RUSH data is in-depth and comprehensive, according to the coalition. The partners will continue to analyze this data and use it to improve services and outcomes. Once initial analysis is conducted, the partners intend to develop a manageable number of strategic focus areas. More detailed action plans will be developed for each area as the coalition continues to explore solutions through agency, funder and community collaboration.
The initial areas on which the coalition will focus include:
- Share Project RUSH data broadly within the community to promote a comprehensive and collaborative approach to addressing the complex issue of homelessness and housing instability.
- Streamline current services to maximize value delivered.
- Focus on barrier removal to enhance opportunities for increased education and employment advancement.
- Promote and/or create opportunities for ongoing supportive services and case management.
- Promote and/or create opportunities for trauma-informed care, response, and programming.
- Place special focus on childhood and young adult success.
- Increase affordable, permanent housing opportunities.
- Engage community to promote social inclusion and eliminate stereotypes and misperceptions.
At the presentation, the coalition encouraged the community to:
- Get informed: visit the website (fchc.net) to download the full report and all of the documents discussed at the event.
- Get involved: be part of the continuing conversations, planning sessions and implementation groups by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Get invested: to financially support the development and implementation of solutions, contact the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities. The Housing Partnership is serving as the fiscal agent for Project RUSH and can be reached at 920-731-6644.
More information about Project RUSH, including access to the full data reports, can be found on the Fox Cities Housing Coalition’s website, www.fchc.net Specific inquiries may be made to the Fox Cities Housing Partnership at (920) 731-6644, or any of its partnering organizations.