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Questions about homeless count in Wilson Co. raised

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By CONNIE ESHThe Wilson Post

Homeless people in Wilson County appear to be undercounted and not receiving a fair share of federal Housing and Urban Development funds.

HUD divides its service areas into Development Districts. In this area, two of those districts are the Central Tennessee Development District and the Upper Cumberland Development District. Each district is expected to develop a Continuum of Care, or CoC, a coalition of the agencies within a district that provide services to low income and homeless people.

The agencies apply for HUD funds based on which district their county is in, going through a lead agency for help writing grant applications.

Wilson County has been part of the CTDD, but at an open meeting held Feb. 9, plans were discussed that would request changing the county to the UCDD.

Those plans only need to be approved by the county and city mayors to be forwarded to HUD, said Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead and Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman.

The request appears to be based on two factors. The CTDD, represented by Homeless No More CoC, may not have been accurately counting homeless people in Wilson County, and Wilson County may not have had enough opportunity to apply for available funds. A third factor is that CTDD has its lead agency in Hohenwald which is 104 miles away and UCDD’s lead agency is in Crossville, about 50 miles away on I-40 East.

In a recent letter to Dedman from Deborah Hillin, Buffalo Valley, Inc. director of Housing & Clinical Grants, “Wilson County has been a part of the Homeless No More coalition since its inception in the mid 1990's and has participated in the coalition every year since.”  She added, “Buffalo Valley, Inc. is the lead agency in the Homeless No More (HNM) coalition.”

The HUD website shows the amount of funding the HNM continuum received. During the past six years, from 2002 through 2007, BVI received a total of $5,655,094 while the four other agencies received a total of $933,828.

The website also tells which agencies received funding. They are Centerstone and Hope House and two counties, Robertson and Marshal, and BVI. None of those agencies are located in Wilson County.

HUD figures for 2006 also show HNM reporting a total of 388 homeless people in the 20 counties, including Wilson County, served by the HNM CoC.  That means an average of 19 to 20 homeless people per county.

Statewide HUD figures for the same period reported 11,210 people homeless, which was 1.7 percent of the state’s population. If Wilson County had about the same percentage of homeless people as HUD’s state average, that would mean approximately 190 homeless people in the county.That figure appears to be closer to the actual number.

For example, at the time of Homeless No More’s report there were about 250 Hurricane Katrina refugees in Wilson County, said Sue Vanatta, president and CEO of the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, all of which should have been included as homeless.

Current figures are probably much higher, due to nationwide economic problems.Recent media reports say Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District note about 260 homeless children in the two school districts.

Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe said his eviction services are up since July. “We’re serving about 100 notices a month. I don’t know where they are going, but I would guess in with family or friends, or maybe into tents.”

He also pointed out that evictions from rental properties do not include foreclosures, which are also high.

Hillin said in her letter, also, “Buffalo Valley and the HNM have a full continuum of services that has served 64 homeless people in Wilson County in the past 5 years. This comes to about 12 people per year or one per month.”

But an official with Brooks House, a shelter for homeless women and children, said they receive about 60 requests for help from homeless people per month in the county, over the same time period.

Peggy Zide, chief operating officer for Cedarcroft Home, which serves mentally ill men, said they have 48 residents and a waiting list.

She also added that the agency receives two or three calls every week from men who need a place to live.

According to Hillin, “HNM provides transportation assistance and comes to Wilson County and picks up homeless persons and brings them to an emergency shelter that serves as the ‘gateway’ for the whole continuum of services.”

Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen said he wishes he’d known about this service, since he’s been calling on local churches for transportation and emergency shelter needs.

Hillin also said, “BVI and the HNM representatives have been active in the local health council for the past several years and have also worked with agencies such as Prospect and Wilson County Civic League to help them apply for housing dollars from other state and federal funding sources. We have conducted an annual count of homeless persons and a shelter inventory year after year.”

While Eric Thompson at Prospect does say HNM has helped his agency to get a grant to house three of Prospect’s handicapped workers, other local care providers such as police, the Brooks House and the Community Help Center say they hadn’t talked with Hillin nor heard of the HNM CoC until very recently.

“I’ve never heard of this agency which would have been such a valuable resource,” Ashe said, noting that often law enforcement officers are the first contact a homeless person has in the county since they are available 24 hours a day seven days a week. “I’ve not spoken to them personally,” he added.

Liz Reese, director of Brooks House, said her first contact with HNM was a visit requesting that she report all of her statistics through them so they could obtain better funding.

However, she said the HNM representative told her Brooks House probably would not be eligible for grants because they serve a limited population of homeless women and children only.

 “As stated earlier representatives of BVI and HNM attended the meeting on February 9.  However, we did not receive an invitation to come... 

“Several providers from the County seem very interested in services for the homeless and that is exactly what is needed to move services forward.” Hillin noted in the letter.

These providers would include such agencies as the Help Centers in Lebanon and Mt Juliet which have been providing services to these populations for many years.

 “Key questions for the new continuum would be where are your emergency shelters, transitional houses, permanent houses, case managers, job training/job placement training centers, alcohol/drug treatment centers etc,” Hillin said. Most of those services in the HNM continuum appear to be located in Maury County.

Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@wilsonpost.com.

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