First Coast Connect
2:08 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

Advocates Hope To Identify Jacksonville's Most Vulnerable With Homeless Survey

Community advocates in Jacksonville are hoping to take another step towards ending homelessness in the city later this month.

100 Homes Jacksonville is a collaborative community initiative to house the most vulnerable homeless persons living in downtown Jacksonville as part of a national network aimed at providing permanent supportive housing.

This year, there’s a lot of momentum around the project as organizers prepare to survey the city's homeless community to determine who is most vulnerable.

Shawn Liu from Veterans Affairs and 100 Homes Jacksonville and Shannon Nazworth from Ability Housing joined Melissa Ross on First Coast Connect to talk more about rethinking our approach to helping the homeless.

100 Homes Jacksonville helped Oscar Soliman move into a home last year after living in the woods for several years.
Credit 100 Homes Jacksonville

This public-private partnership includes nonprofits that serve the homeless, local government and the Veterans Administration (VA). The program links community resources to provide affordable housing and support services.

“It all started in November of 2011," said Nazworth.

"We had 85 volunteers walk the streets of downtown interviewing the homeless to identify who was the most vulnerable, literally who was going to die the fastest if we didn’t get them off the streets.”

Through this hands-on effort, Nazworth and her team were able to personally assess the highest-risk people and work together to get them permanent housing and support services.

“(Ending homelessness) is a really big emphasis for the VA. But we can’t do it necessarily from the national level, so it’s critical that we partner with our local agencies,” said Liu.

He also noted that local organizations must ensure they are sharing resources and working together to identify those most in need of assistance.

The organization successfully completed it's first "Rapid Results" campaign to house 100 people last year.

The effort took less than four months.

Nazworth believes that Jacksonville has the potential to affect change so that individuals and families are not homeless for extended periods of time.

WATCH: A short online documentary on the 100 Homes Jacksonville project

“We’re trying to identify everyone who’s homeless and also determine their level of need,” said Nazworth in describing the focus of the study. “We want to catch them quickly and get them into housing.”

Liu calls their approach a “bottom-up” strategy, identifying first those who have been homeless the longest or hardest to house, and then utilizing resources to get them off the streets for good.

“We’ve seen a really big difference, not only in our community, but this is a best practice that is happening nationwide,” said Liu.

A study similar to the one completed in 2011 is set to take place on Jan. 22.

Nazworth is calling for community volunteers to join with the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Northeast Florida in getting a new annual count of the homeless population across Duval, Nassau, and Clay counties.

In 2011, volunteers identified over 400 homeless and interviewed 387. The 2014 study will aim to reassess these statistics and determine the current state of homelessness in Northeast Florida.

You can get more info on 100 Homes Jacksonville, and find out how to volunteer for their "homeless point in time count" at 100HomesJax.org.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.

WJCT News intern Aaron Badida (@aaronbadida) contributed to this report.

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