There weren’t enough seats ready for the turnout at Julian Smith Barbeque Pit on Tuesday morning, but that was good thing.
Organizers for the year’s first Continuum of Care meeting quickly addressed the overflow with more tables and chairs hastily arranged in the back of the room while more and more representatives from area non-profits and government agencies filed through the squeaking double doors.
Almost 60 people were in attendance, which organizers said was a sign their plan was already working to improve coordination between the various shelters and organizations that provide services to Augusta’s homeless population.
“The turnout was terrific,” said Linda Suarez, with CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority, one of the organizers. “We are trying to bring more people to the table. This shows that we are moving in the right direction.”
According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a “Continuum of Care” is a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the needs of homeless people as they move to stable housing and self-sufficiency.
Suarez said Augusta is working on improving its continuum through better coordination between agencies, better data collection on the people they serve, and better networking and sharing of resources among providers.
“What we want to do is build a good, strong continuum, and strong solid network and good, strong application to HUD,” she said.
Augusta’s application to HUD is paramount, organizers said. The combined efforts of area providers are reported in the application along with estimates of the numbers who need services. It’s a competitive process with Augusta’s continuum vying for the same pool of federal grant money each year.
Compared to other Georgia cities, Augusta has been lagging in the competition for HUD grants. Augusta has received about $612,000 each year since 2009, a little less than what Athens receives. At the same time, Columbus has been averaging about $1.2 million and Savannah averages about $3.5 million each year.
“We are trying to get in a more competitive position,” Suarez said. “When you look at all these numbers, what it really comes down to being able to help that family that is on the street.”
Organizers say one reason Augusta is lagging in funding is a problem with data collection – documenting the numbers of people who are served by shelters and other agencies. For example, last year’s application failed to document 50 percent of the homeless in transient shelters, in part because such shelters often lack the staff or equipment to keep accurate data.
All this new cooperation and networking is a good start for 2012, said Vicki Johnson, community development manager with Augusta Housing and Development, which hired a consultant in the fall to help Augusta Continuum of Care improve its coordination and grant application process.
“We went through several reorganization workshops,” Johnson said. “I think it resulted in us really pushing every agency to be more involved.”
A good part of Tuesday’s meeting was allocated to preparing agency representatives for the annual “point-in-time” count of the area’s homeless, which will be reported as part of the Continuum of Care data used by HUD officials to determine how to distribute millions in grant money.
This year they have a plan to get volunteers to the shelters Thursday night so the census will be complete, said Sarah McDonald, executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, which specializes in assisting homeless families by providing shelter and services through 29 area churches.
“We are doing a great job in Augusta making a real difference in homeless peoples’ lives and people need to know about that,” McDonald said.