One of the goals in the Prince William County Strategic Plan states that “The community will support vulnerable individuals and families to ensure the wellbeing of the entire community.” As part of that goal, there is a strategic outcome to decrease the number of homeless people living in the county. According to Courtney Tierney, director of the county’s Department of Social Services, the county is making good progress toward that goal.
Tierney recently briefed the Board of County Supervisors on the number of homeless people in the county and the work being done to decrease and prevent homelessness with a “Wellbeing Strategic Plan Update Homeless Outcome” presentation. According to Tierney, many who are homeless work, and their reasons for homelessness are wide ranging. They may be married, divorced, veterans, domestic violence survivors or people who are intellectually or developmentally disabled. One thing is for certain – homelessness impacts all ages, including youth and children.
Determining the number homeless in an area depends on a “Point-in-Time” count, which the county’s Department of Social Services conducts each January as directed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The last count was in January 2018, where there were 374 homeless people in Prince William County, which was down from 400 in Fiscal 2017. Of those who were homeless, 114 were children under 18. There were 21 youth between 18 and 24 years old and 239 were adults.
The Continuum of Care, which is coordinated by the county’s Department of Social Services and includes churches, non-profits and federal, state and local government agencies, works to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring,” Tierney told the Board.
Among other things, the organizations in the Continuum of Care can provide temporary housing, financial management training, help with resume writing, hypothermia shelter, life skills training, access to medical services and substance abuse treatment. Additionally, the Continuum of Care provides one central phone number for callers to find services and shelter, instead of having to call each individual shelter. Those with questions about space in shelters can call 703-792-3366 for real-time information, Tierney told the Board.
In Fiscal 2017, the Board of County Supervisors appropriated $500,000 to renovate the Bill Mehr Drop-in Center, where many of the services to the homeless are offered. In Fiscal 2018, the Board appropriated another $445,000 to hire five employees to run the Coordinated Entry System as directed by HUD. The system brings the Continuum of Care agencies together in an effort to prevent homelessness, help the homeless find housing, and to avoid recurring homelessness.
In the last two fiscal years, the Continuum of Care has moved 1,587 people into stable housing. According to Tierney, in Fiscal 2018, 47 people came to the Drop-In Center for substance abuse services; 24 attended anger management classes; 13 sought nutrition classes; 30 received job readiness training and 38 received computer skills training.
Tierney said the Department of Social Services is looking for volunteers to help with this year’s “Point-in-Time” count, which will be held on Jan. 24. People who wish to volunteer can call 703-792-7549 to sign up.