“Homeward Bound moved me to the front burner and set me on high.”

Last year Harry moved from a shelter to his own home through his work with us. We interviewed him to understand what the experience was like and what’s happening in his life now.

“A year ago, during the winter months, around January and February I was living in the shelter. I had arthritis in my feet and hands real bad. I got in touch with Homeward Bound and they helped me set a course because I didn’t have the money for an apartment and to get my life on track.

This is the first place I’ve ever had of my own. I’ve always rented a room. This is my little home now. The people who live around me here, we’re all close neighbors and we get on good. There’s no violence or crime around here. We all have a sense of humor. I prank them. I have to keep them on their toes. I see them in the evening and it’s just like a family coming home from a day’s work. I go out there and holler at them. I get them cranked up. Having a place is good for me.

When people ask how I got my place, I tell them, ‘I went to the Lord and the Lord led me to Homeward Bound.’ It all came in one picture and when it did, it showed me the better side that I could live and how to leave the side I didn’t want to be in anymore. Every morning I was waking up and not knowing where my next meal would be coming from or waking up in the morning and wanting a cold Mountain Dew and not having the money in my pocket to do it. I was getting hungry during the day or wanting to lay down and you’d have to go find a bush somewhere. I don’t have to do that anymore. I can get in my bed to lay down or sit in my chair.

I have my own little place where I feel comfortable and safe. I’m a yard person anyway. It’s warming up. I’ll be out sitting out there in the yard, talking with my friends, and just enjoying life having a home. The yard is nice with the trees and the lawn. I used to sit in my grandmother’s yard out there all the time. They wouldn’t let you in the house. We were kids. We couldn’t leave the yard. I’d get sleepy and go to sleep in one of the chairs out in the sun. I do that now the same way as when I was a little kid. The sun is good for the body. I sit out there two or three hours every day and enjoy the sun.

Now I just want to get closer to the Lord. I don’t want much. Everybody can use more money, don’t get me wrong. I only ask for what the Lord gives me and I’m content with that. I’m as happy as a little pea in a pod. Homelessness is just a miserable thing to go through. I went to Homeward Bound and I asked them to help me. They were the only people I asked. They told me six to eight weeks. I got a place in five weeks. I know they’ll always be there because they told me that. They’re beautiful people. I haven’t seen any ugly people. That’s a figure of speech.

When I was around 30 I couldn’t get a place because I had a felony. People would put me on the back burner. Homeward Bound moved me around to the front burner and set me on high. They go through a lot of people in a day. They helped me with my food stamps and a lot of things. If they can do it, they do it all. They get you situated in a place where you feel comfortable. I could have moved if I wanted to, but I want to stay here because it’s my home. I hope I get to live here a long, long, long time. I hope it’s a long time before the Lord calls my number. You don’t have all this agony and weight on your shoulders. I couldn’t feel any better when I get up in the morning.”

No One Left Outside

“No one left outside” describes our commitment to finding a housing solution for every person experiencing homelessness, starting with people who have been chronically homeless and benefit from added support. Our Woodfin Apartment project began in April 2016 and has already shown great success in ending homelessness for the residents there and reducing public costs related to emergency medical services and incarceration. Find out more from staff and residents involved in the project from this video:

Hope Despite a Rise in Homelessness

Mary Jo Powers, Executive Director

Every year for 24 hours on the last Wednesday in January, nonprofit and community leaders fan out across the state to conduct a “point-in-time count” of our neighbors experiencing homelessness. This happens in shelters, transitional housing programs, on the streets, and at campsites.

The numbers just came out and the total homeless population in Buncombe County rose from 509 in 2016 to 562 in 2017. Because of federal rules, the count includes people staying in transitional housing as homeless. There were a total of 222 individuals in transitional housing the night of the 2017 count, including 178 veterans. That means that 340 people were staying in shelters, in cars, or on the streets.

Homeward Bound housed 407 people experiencing homelessness in Buncombe and Henderson Counties in 2016. We use the nationally-recognized best practice model of Housing First: moving people into housing as a first step, then surrounding them with an appropriate level of support. Besides providing rental assistance, our housing case managers help them address employment, mental illness, substance abuse, physical health, and other stability issues.

Over the past 11 years, 89 percent of the more than 1,750 people that Homeward Bound has moved into housing have remained housed.

Given that Homeward Bound moved nearly 400 people into housing last year, what does this point-in-time count tell us about Asheville and Buncombe County? First and foremost, we have a severe shortage of affordable housing. In recent years, we have had a functional 0 percent vacancy rate in affordable housing. Coupled with a very large gap between wages and housing costs, it is a tribute to the efforts by the city, county, VA Medical Center and private service agencies that the number of homeless persons is not significantly higher.

The lack of affordable housing also affects homeless veterans. There are currently 23 unsheltered veterans in our county, 20 of whom have been assessed and have a housing plan. They could be in housing immediately, but we have not yet found available units for them.

With the recent passage of an affordable housing bond and changes in city planning and zoning, a number of affordable housing projects are underway or in pre-development. But housing isn’t built overnight. It will take some time to see an effective difference.

At Homeward Bound we are planning for the future with great hope. We have developed strategic initiatives during the past six months to address many of the issues that are now reflected in the point-in-time count.

One goal is to offer a homelessness prevention and diversion program through our AHOPE Day Center. Using the Housing First model, we’ve moved many people out of homelessness, but to end it, we need an effective intervention to prevent homelessness before people enter the system.

Overall, we prioritize ending chronic homelessness in our housing programs. Our new housing option for 18 of the highest-needs, chronically homeless persons who previously had difficulty staying in housing just marked its first year and the housing retention rate for this program is 100 percent. Based on its success, we are initiating conversations with developers to create at least 100 additional housing units, which should end chronic homelessness in our community when built or procured.

The annual point-in-time count is a valuable tool for everyone concerned about homelessness. For those of us working to end homelessness, the count results allow us to review our programs and priorities, strengthen our best practices, and examine the systemic forces that create homelessness.

With the best practices of assessing each person experiencing homelessness, using the Housing First model followed by appropriate support, and a community-wide commitment to substantially increase our stock of affordable housing, we have cause for hope and renewed dedication to ending homelessness.

Click here to see the original version of this article, printed in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Housing is Healthcare

Housing is healthcare! We recently joined with Mission Health to study hospital use among our Permanent Supportive Housing clients who have been chronically homeless and now have their own home. This is a group of people who have some kind of disability, have the most complex needs, and have been on the streets the longest. The data reflects what we know to be true from our daily work with folks: hospital use decreased by 54% in the year after their move-in.

When people are homeless, their health often deteriorates. They’re more exposed to the elements, the food available to them isn’t usually healthy, they don’t have easy access to healthcare or medications, and they don’t get consistent rest. They spend a lot of their time trying to access services alongside other people with poor health, so illnesses get spread. Most importantly, they generally can’t focus on maintaining or improving their health because all of their energy goes into trying to survive. In the year prior to moving into housing through our program, the 124 people studied spent 931 days in the hospital.

Once people move into their own housing, everything changes. They can choose, store, and cook their own food. They’re not on the go all the time because they have a safe place to spend their time. They’re able to sleep much better. People in their new homes don’t go to the emergency room as often because their basic needs are now met and they’re no longer as vulnerable as they were while homeless. They can access preventive medical care and follow through on appointments. They now have a safe place to store their medications. They start to move out of survival mode. In the year after move-in, the days our Permanent Supportive Housing clients spent in the hospital fell from 931 to 428.

Housing works!  Not only does it end homelessness – it also gives people the stability to get healthy and stay healthy.

Emily Ball
Housing Services Director