Volunteers needed for one day to help area homeless

The Key Alliance, an initiative of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission are looking for volunteers to help Nashville's homeless.

At least 500 helpers are needed to coordinate Nashville's Project Homeless Connect (PHC), a one-day, one-stop event that provides homeless individuals and families with access to a broad range of services including medical and foot care, dental screenings, legal services, employment assistance, food, shoes and haircuts.

The Key Alliance plans to serve 1,500 individuals at PHC on Wednesday, Dec. 9 from 8 a.m to 3 p.m at Municipal Auditorium, 417 Fourth Avenue North in Nashville.

Volunteers should sign up at The Key Alliance Website, thekeyalliance.org. The link is under Upcoming Events: Project Homeless Connect.

PHC is hosted by The Key Alliance in partnership with the Nashville Chamber Public Benefit Foundation. The Key Alliance includes all partners from service providers, corporations and faith-based organizations to foundations, government agencies and individuals who are working together to end homelessness in Nashville. The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission serves as the governing body of The Key Alliance.

Park Center, a partner in the Key Alliance and a nonprofit organization serving individuals with mental illness, joined together with volunteers from 14 different organizations to survey homeless individuals in Downtown Nashville and outlying areas on three different nights in October of last year and this year.

Park Center’s updated Vulnerability Index shows that 41 percent out of a total of 687 people surveyed in Nashville are at risk of dying on the streets if they do not receive housing soon.

Highlights of the collective results of the two surveys include:

§ 45 percent receive mental health treatment;
§ 24 percent of respondents are veterans, of which 49 percent are vulnerable;
§ 31 percent have a physical disability or mobility limitations;
§ 39 percent have been the victim of a violent attack since they’ve been homeless;
§ 30 percent work;
§ 65 percent have abused substances in the past or present;
§ 47 percent have received substance abuse treatment;
§ 69 percent are uninsured;
§ 84 percent have been to jail and 29 percent to prison; and
§ 14 percent have been in foster care, of which 46 percent are vulnerable.

Corey Gephart, Park Center’s Homeless Outreach Supervisor, said Park Center’s street outreach workers are using the Vulnerability Index to prioritize the most vulnerable individuals for services and housing.

“We found that 56 percent of the most vulnerable individuals sleep on the streets rather than in shelters,” said Gephart. “This draws attention to the need for more street outreach in Nashville.”

The Vulnerability Index was developed by Common Ground, a non-profit in New York City, and is based on the research of Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless’ Dr. Jim O’Connell who found that the premature death of individuals who are homeless can be predicted by identifying an individual’s length of homelessness combined with specific health indicators.

“The Vulnerability Index is a tool for outreach workers to assess who is most medically vulnerable on Nashville’s streets,” said Barbara Quinn, CEO and president of Park Center. “Individuals living on the streets die an average of 20-25 years earlier than people who live in housing. That’s why it is so important for Nashville to create more affordable housing opportunities for the homeless.”

Housing medically vulnerable individuals is also cost effective.

“We found that our respondents visited the ER 607 times over the past three months,” Gephart said. “If an average visit to the ER costs $1,000, we estimate that the annual cost of ER visits of all respondents is $2,428,000. When we house people, however, these costs decrease and health conditions usually become more stable.”

Park Center is a partner in The Key Alliance, which promotes Housing First. Housing First is a model that takes homeless individuals directly from the street into housing where they receive individualized case management and direct services.

“The good news is that Nashville knows that the solution is Housing First,” Quinn said. “Homelessness is a community problem and if we all – nonprofit organizations, government agencies, private business, and individuals – come together under The Key Alliance, we can make a dent. The Vulnerability Index shows us where to start by saving lives.”

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