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Changing Homelessness Inches Towards 'Functional Zero'

Ryan Benk

Duval County is well on the way to accomplishing its goal of reducing veteran and chronic homelessness to what’s called “functional zero” by the end of this year, the group Changing Homelessness announced Tuesday night.

About 100 people attended the event held in the Jacksonville Library banquet room. Changing Homelessness CEO Dawn Gilman told the audience while homelessness will never be eradicated, that doesn't mean a community can't reach “functional zero.”

“If I say ‘zero,’ that’s a zero, a null — no more homeless people. What we have been discovering is that there is always a in-flow and out-flow of homelessness — just like in our community. People move here; people move away,” Gilman said.

Jacksonville is one of 75 communities participating in a nationwide push to bring chronic and veteran homelessness to “functional zero.” That means if someone becomes homeless, the community is able to house them within a month.

Gilman said over five years, veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness have each dropped by about 70 percent, and all other types of homelessness have dropped by 60 percent.

“This year, and this is from our point-in-time count, we found a total of 1,959 persons. Only 130 of them were veterans. We still have 325 that are chronically homeless,” she said.

Those numbers are from the three-county greater Jacksonville area. Gilman said she’s confident the community will reach its functional-zero goals by the end of this year, but there is a ceiling to this success — you can't continue seeing gains in the fight against homelessness if you don't also address mental health and substance abuse.

“If you put a person in housing and then wrap all the supportive services around them, they start to stabilize,” she said.

Gilman said she’s encouraged by recent reforms to Florida’s mental-health system. Specifically, she welcomes the passage of a new law sponsored by Jacksonville Republican Representative Charles McBurney that expands long-term mental health and substance abuse care in Northeast Florida. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.