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Myths and Homelessness in The Biggest Little City (Opinion)


Drug Addiction & Mental Health Issues Are Not the Cause for The Majority Of Who Are Experiencing Homelessness In Washoe County

Sleeping on the BELIEVE sculpture downtown. Image: Bob Conrad
Sleeping on the BELIEVE sculpture downtown. Image: Bob Conrad

By Monica DuPea

I attended the recent CHAB (Community Homelessness Advisory Board) meeting where Orgcode, a company contracted by the City of Reno, presented its findings on what I’ll call our “State of Homelessness,” (read the report below) complete with suggestions for improvement. I was surprised and relieved to learn that, for 80% of the folks who experience homelessness in Washoe County, it’s rare, brief, and non-recurring.

They just seem to figure something out, or “self-resolve,” as the professionals call it. And, they usually do it within 14 days. The remaining 20% are experiencing episodic or chronic situations.

Because our feelings are not a reliable assessment, we must do the hard work of making equitable based decisions for people who are suffering. Orgcode recommends the use of an assessment to “score” homeless people for services.

Communities who have used these scoring tools have decreased homelessness in their communities by 25% (within 2 years). This is how it would work: People would be screened and scored into an “acuity” level of low, or moderate, or high. The higher the score, the higher the acuity level. Priority would be given to the highest score since this segment is believed to impose the greatest economic and social burdens.

For Coordinated Entry to be effective, the community must adopt a “Housing First” approach.

Because 80% figure it out on their own, Coordinated Entry (intake, assessment and referral) would start for the remaining 20% (episodic and chronic situations) on Day 15. The process is intended to only address lack of housing, not poverty.

Orgcode encouraged the shelter to remove feeding services and anti-poverty programming from the site and focus all efforts on Coordinated Entry. And, for Coordinated Entry to be effective, the community must adopt a “Housing First” approach. Housing First means quickly moving people experiencing homelessness housing.

Coordinated Entry and Housing First work because of housing matches. Housing matches are the housing units available to those staying at the shelter. A range of units are needed, from specialized residential programs to “accessible and affordable” rentals, and everything in between.

Our biggest obstacle in getting past the birdfeeder and truly helping to empower those experiencing homelessness to meet their highest potential will be figuring out how to provide the housing matches.

It’s also important to mention that the front end of our workforce training system or “economic mobility continuum” is missing. Minimum wage currently sits at $8.25 an hour while a basic wage of $10.67/hr. is needed to just be able to cover bills. Likely a high school diploma and maybe some post-secondary education would be necessary to achieve a skilled wage of $12/hr. or more.

And, this is where most everyone needs to aspire since the housing market, and the new housing being developed, is targeted at those making $17 an hour.

We’ve got a lot of hard work to do. And, if we really want to address homelessness properly, we must put our nose to the grind and build the critical pieces necessary that create the push and flow that moves people from basic wage–to skilled wage–to living wage, AS WELL AS the housing “matches”, so people can stabilize…then thrive.

Read the Org Code study below.

About Monica DuPea

Monica DuPea is the founder and director of the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project and Truckee Meadows Housing Solutions. She is an expert on homeless youth and is pioneering a path to provide housing for our working poor. Monica has been recognized as a City Super Hero, a Reno Riveter, a Local Legend, and a Top 20 under 40 by the Young Professionals Network.

Monica DuPea

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