For a place like Miami County, it may be a bit difficult to believe that homelessness is a pressing social issue. Modern representations of homelessness in America make the issue seem that it only exists in areas that are extremely urban with high populations of minorities. But as we know, the perception doesn’t always square with reality.
Each year, a special census of Miami County’s homeless population is done and it shows that there are homeless people right here in our hometown communities. These individuals experiencing homelessness are broad and varied; these are young people and old people. People who are well and people who are experiencing health issues. Some individuals are homeless for a short period time, while others have had homelessness be a chronic issue.
Most of the people experiencing homelessness have fallen through the cracks of a fragile social safety net. For one reason or another, the vital social services that can allow these individuals to begin to live healthy, happy and productive lives aren’t getting to them. Some of these reasons are consequences of self-sabotage, others reasons may be that the services provided don’t solve the underlying problem causing homelessness to occur.
The picture that is painted here may be bleak, but we are more than fortunate in Miami County since there are scores of human service agencies that are working together to strengthen the social safety net.
Since 1996, Miami County’s human service agencies have come together under the banner of the Miami County Continuum of Care to provide help and assistance to some of our county’s most vulnerable populations. Each quarter, dozens of human service organizations come together to share resources and referrals to help clients get the services they need.
And more than just sharing information, the continuum has grown to provide services themselves. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than the growing Rides to Work Program.
In 2013, the Continuum of Care took a bold step to develop a program to not only serve those that are homeless, but also to serve those that are at risk of being homeless through a program that provides transportation to and from workplaces for those that need it. With the generosity of a benefactor and the Troy Area United Way, the Tipp City United Way, the Miami County Foundation and the Troy Foundation, Rides to Work has been providing transportation for over two years to our county’s population who are at risk of being homeless.
As the Continuum of Care has become older, it has also grown. Not only in providing innovative programming, it has also grown organizationally. Earlier this year, the Continuum of Care became its own formal organization and received tax-exempt public charity status from the Internal Revenue Service.
This organizational and programmatic growth is now setting up the Continuum of Care to provide more comprehensive services to this county’s most vulnerable residents. These clients now have a new resource that they can turn to in times of need. The agencies that work so closely with these clients also have a new resource as well.
In my own experiences, the Miami County Continuum of Care is an example of something that works. In the non-profit world, it can be the rare exception to find groups that actually work together and collaborate. Many non-profit organizations still hold to parochial views on their clients or geographies; they create these artificial lines in the sand that keep cooperation out and promote an unhealthy environment of self-reliance.
The Miami County Continuum of Care is always looking for individuals and organizations that are willing to cooperate to be a part of the solution of solving and preventing homelessness in Miami County. The organization is made up of those that provide a multitude of health services, housing, education, emergency assistance and even governmental agencies. But, there is always room for more people at the table, including yourself!
I would encourage anyone if they have any interest in helping our residents to take time and learn more about the Continuum of Care and how they can play a pivotal role in improving the lives of Miami County residents. The continuum can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.