South Dakota consortium tackles hunger, homelessness

South Dakota consortium tackles hunger, homelessness There were nearly 1,000 homeless individuals and families in South Dakota on June 11, 2004, according to the one day survey conducted by the South Dakota Housing for the Homeless Consortium. Nearly 200 of these individuals and families were unsheltered and had been homeless for more than a year or were homeless four or more times in the last three years.

"South Dakota is a rural state and many people believe that hunger and homelessness do not affect rural areas, especially those areas with a strong agricultural base. Both hunger and homelessness are very real issues, even for rural areas," said Vona Johnson, coordinator for the Housing for the Homeless Consortium. "Underemployment, the cost of housing and health care, mental health and substance abuse, and the lack of services or coordination of existing services in some programs or areas of the state can all impact peoples' ability to get and maintain a home."

"Many communities have limited employment opportunities and few resources, which causes wage earners to live from paycheck to paycheck and limits their access to services. Many do not earn enough, even with multiple jobs, to pay for housing, daycare, food, transportation, and other basic needs. Even working people are homeless, right here in South Dakota," Johnson said.

The Housing for the Homeless Consortium was created in 2001 to unite all who work to provide shelter, jobs, food, education, health care and private or public support to those who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless due to their precarious financial position. The primary focus of the group is to identify gaps in programs and services that make it difficult for people to make it on their own and then find resources to help fill those gaps. Sometimes it is as simple as sharing information between nonprofit and public providers on programs and services that are already available, but not well publicized.

The Housing for the Homeless Consortium is undertaking another survey on Jan. 25, 2005, in order to participate in a nationwide count required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This survey will attempt to count the number of homeless families and individuals throughout the entire country on one specific day to eliminate the possibility of a homeless person being double counted. It is believed that this is only the second time such a count has been completed across the country, the first having been completed in 1990.

The new survey is designed to determine the number of people living on the street, in shelters, and being released from public facilities with no place to go. An attempt will also be made to count the number of families that are not considered homeless by federal definition, but are living with family and friends because they have no alternative. Participation by all who offer and all who receive homeless services will be critical to obtaining an accurate picture of the scope of the problem.

Since its inception, the statewide consortium has received grants totaling $3.6 million to provide development, operating, and supportive service funding to a variety of homeless programs including Cedar Village, a permanent supportive housing program in Yankton designed for people with disabilities. Twenty formerly homeless individuals with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness' (SPMI) who do not require institutionalization, but were not able to maintain housing on their own, reside there.

Other programs funded by the HUD Continuum of Care Program include Heartland House, a transitional housing program that provides intensive services to families with children; scattered site permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals with disabilities; operating funds for Dakota House, a transitional home for homeless Native Americans; and a vocational program for homeless individuals working with Goodwill Industries.

While all of these programs are located in Sioux Falls where a large portion of the state's homeless live, the Consortium is working with the Black Hills Homeless Coalition and providers in other communities to develop programs in other areas of the state.

All across the nation, rapid release from a variety of correction and treatment facilities, often before adequate discharge planning can occur, can result in homelessness. Reducing the number of these homeless individuals is a national and state priority. By combining the results from the upcoming homeless count with a well though out plan of action, the Housing for the Homeless Consortium will assist its members in seeking the appropriate changes needed in the system and locating needed resources, both public and private, to address these problems.

Each year, the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is designated during the week following Veterans Day and the week prior to Thanksgiving. This year, Nov. 14-20, was designated as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

It is a good time to focus on those families and individuals who go without basic necessities as we approach the holiday season. To help heighten the awareness of the problem, the consortium will have a Christmas tree in honor of the homeless children at the State Capitol building this year.

There is still considerable work to be done to eliminate hunger and homelessness across the state. The Consortium encourages anyone who is interested in participating in this effort to contact either their local homeless coalition or email lisab@sdhda.org to obtain information regarding the next Housing for the Homeless meeting scheduled for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at Cedar Shores in Oacoma. Citizens can also make donations to or volunteer to help at community food banks, free clothing centers, soup kitchens, or homeless shelters.

Individuals can also increase awareness by learning ways to better serve those in need. In addition to attending state and local homeless meetings, they can attend the South Dakota Housing Development Authority's 14th Annual Housing Conference at the Ramkota RiverCentre in Pierre, on Nov. 22 and 23. The conference has sessions on cultural diversity, supportive services, accessibility, ethics in mortgage lending, and the impact on methamphetamines in the housing industry. This year, for the first time, there will be a new track that will focus on Best Practices in Indian Country. If you are interested in more details on the conference go to www.sdhda.org or call (605) 773-3181.

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