Mach: Shining light on homelessness in McHenry County

Homelessness is caused by a variety of complex and unfortunate social issues, such as the death of family members, a history of being homeless as a child, domestic violence or a history of complex trauma and abuse.

Additional factors might include unaffordable housing and a reduction in or elimination of work hours.

When I was selected to become the chairman of the Continuum of Care to End Homelessness, the challenging work took on a very important meaning to me.

The Continuum of Care Committee was born in 1996. Its formation was a response to a HUD mandate to locally manage homeless-service funding and the growing number of homeless individuals in McHenry County. What had started as a loose-knit group of concerned citizens, stakeholders and community social service agencies became an important driver for localized use of federal funding allocated to McHenry County to fight homelessness.

Now known as the McHenry County Continuum of Care to End Homelessness (the CoC), this volunteer group still meets at 9 a.m. the second Thursday of each month. The McHenry County Department of Planning and Development is key in helping to plan the activities of the CoC, which is composed of members representing local and regional organizations, as well as individuals.

One of the main objectives of the CoC is the substantial responsibility of the best and most effective use of the scarce HUD resources available to it. This includes the Continuum of Care Competition and Emergency Solutions Grant Program allocations. Both occur on an annual basis. 

Through annual ranking, financial allocations are funneled to local organizations that confront homelessness in our communities. The dedication and time commitment of CoC members is immense. McHenry County is fortunate to have been ranked within the top 19 percent of the country for the 2012 competition.

McHenry County’s organized and committed efforts were successful despite the lack of several key factors, such as an adequate communitywide transportation system and a substantial lack of affordable housing. This proves that the community charities you know and support locally are using the funding provided to them with the utmost due diligence.

CoC funding provides much-needed support for such activities as shelter operations, transitional shelter and housing services, and permanent supportive housing for those who have a severe and persistent mental illness. Without these critical resources, county residents who find themselves homeless would have no place to turn in their times of need; people may find themselves living in a park, in their vehicle or in a place not fit for human habitation.

Unfortunately, despite CoC funding, homeless individuals continue to experience long waiting lists for services because of limited funding and resources. Community service providers also face the ongoing potential of funding reductions across the board. The CoC funding is no exception to this. It is anticipated that the resources will be cut by 5 percent to 7 percent for the fiscal 2013 funding competition. This is coupled with ESG funding that was reduced for 2013 by more than 25 percent.

Providers that receive funding through the CoC initiatives are committed to its mission of working together to end homelessness in McHenry County. In the spirit of collaboration, many of the providers have interagency service and referral agreements that prevent an unnecessary duplication of services. These organizations also continue to devote precious time and resources to the development of the annual CoC Competition Application and Point-in-Time Count.

CoC members are actively involved in the development of strategies for the fiscal 2013 competition, which is expected to begin in late October or early November depending on the government shutdown. Likewise, additional resources are being sought to make the January mandated count more effective in identifying homeless veterans.

Starting next week, the Northwest Herald will publish a monthly column written by some of the community providers and individuals involved in the CoC and its important mission. These stakeholders represent providers of services to homeless women and children, survivors of domestic violence, individuals with severe mental illness, shelter service providers, local church shelter sites and community organizations that provide vital support through vouchers and innovative programs.

These columns will provide some insight into this important work that makes a difference for all of us in McHenry County as we work together to end homelessness.

• Hans Mach is chairman of the board for McHenry County Continuum of Care to End Homelessness.

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