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Big Bend Continuum of Care gives City Commissioners update on homelessness metrics in the community

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The City of Tallahassee Commission heard an update on homelessness in our community Wednesday.

The Big Bend Continuum of Care, a regional agency responding to homelessness in our area, looks at its progress each year.

Some statistics shown by the Big Bend COC were overall positive, but others were concerning to Commissioners.

Big Bend COC’s Amanda Wander said she’s heard the narrative of homelessness increasing in the community; she says that’s not quite correct.

“Homelessness is not necessarily increasing by volume of people, but the amount of time which somebody experiencing is homelessness is becoming longer.” explained Wander. “And they’re returning to the system again more often.”

Wander also explained that homelessness is more visible in the winter months.

“You can see encampments you didn’t necessarily see in the summer,” said Wander.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has created seven ways of measuring data for regional COCs around the country.

Those data sets include length of time homeless, returns to homelessness, number of homeless persons, jobs and income growth, first time homeless, and successful housing placement.

The data runs from October 2019 to September 2020.

The average length of time people in the Big Bend are remaining homeless is 144 nights, with a median of 65 nights.

Amanda Wander says that’s below the national average; she says the data in 2020 is very similar to 2019.

However, she says she’d like to a see a goal set locally for people not to experience homelessness for more than 30 days, getting them out of emergency shelters.

“There has to be somewhere for people to move on to. So in order to decrease the amount of time somebody experiences homelessness as a system, we have to consider increasing permanent supportive housing, getting those folks who have chronic histories of homelessness out of our system,” said Wander.

One statistic that Wander said was not favorable compared to the national average was the number of returns to homelessness.

In the Big Bend, within less than 6 months, 21% of people, or 199 total people, are struggling with homelessness again.

In two years, 33% of people are struggling with homelessness again. That number is 319 total people.

Wander says that number can be decreased by increasing follow-up support.

The region has a more favorable data set for those who are first time homeless.

“We’ve done pretty well with our prevention strategies,” said Wander.

486 fewer people became homeless for the first time in the 2020 data, from 1,869 in 2019 down to 1,383.

The Big Bend COC is putting the finishing touches on the strategic plan; Wander said it should be complete around April or May.

Commissioners voted to schedule a workshop with the County Commission for June or July of this year.

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