Last updated: December 09. 2013 10:43AM - 340 Views

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COLUMBIA — The United Way of the Midlands’ board of directors has approved its Community Framework for Action in Homelessness that outlines how United Way plans to invest resources, pursue additional funding, create initiatives and strengthen partnerships to reduce homelessness over the next three years.

“Homelessness is a complex issue with many causes, and it affects men, women and children of all ages,” said Mac Bennett, president and CEO of United Way of the Midlands. “This is the result of months of planning between our staff, volunteers and partners. We believe, through cooperation and implementation of best practices, we can prevent homelessness, shorten the length of time people are homeless, reduce the recurrence of homelessness, and improve our systems of care across the Midlands.”

Highlights include:

Coordinated Assessment: United Way and partners will develop a Coordinated Screening and Assessment System to more effectively connect people in need to resources. This innovative system will syndicate four previously separate Homeless Management Information Systems to create a uniform system for all of South Carolina. Integrating these resources will allow for better referrals, as well as improved analysis of services and housing needs.

Non-traditional Street Outreach: Homelessness is not a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday issue. United Way plans to fund programs that deploy outreach workers to engage people living on the streets offering after-hours and weekend services.

Increase the Supply of Affordable Housing: United Way will work with partners to create and preserve affordable rental housing including support services when possible. Increasing the supply of affordable housing is crucial to preventing homelessness and reducing the recurrence of homelessness.

Why is this important? The January 2013 one-day homeless count identified 1,518 people in United Way’s six-county footprint, representing a 43 percent increase over the previous one-day count conducted in 2011.

Of those identified as homeless during the one-day count, over half were unsheltered, a quarter were families with children, and over half reported being homeless for the first-time.

“The issue of homelessness is not confined to adult males downtown,” said Dr. Percy Mack, superintendent of Richland County School District One and chairman of the United Way of the Midlands board of directors. “School-aged children are the hidden face of homelessness, and the consequences for them can last a lifetime.”

Children who face homelessness and frequent moves early in life due to homelessness or living in doubled-up situations tend to lose ground with each negative move.

A child who is not reading proficiently by third grade is four times more likely to drop out of high school. By the fifth grade, highly mobile children lag in math scores a full year behind other children and demonstrate overall lags in reading and spelling.

The Department of Education’s 2011 annual count in South Carolina was 13,155 school-aged children in public schools living in shelters, cars, severely substandard housing, motels, and doubled up. This reflects a 17 percent increase from children identified in 2010.

United Way of the Midlands and the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless are conducting a Warm the Winter Drive to collect new socks, hats and gloves for people experiencing homelessness during MACH’s 2014 Point-in-Time Count. These items can be dropped off at United Way at 1800 Main St. in Columbia and will be distributed to homeless people on Jan. 23 during the count.

For more information, visit www.uway.org.

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