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Op-Ed: A Regional Approach to Homelessness in Northern Kentucky

 

The Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC) works with organizations throughout the Commonwealth to address the diverse housing needs of our citizens. Many of the projects KHC supports target certain populations with specific housing needs – multifamily housing affordable for working families, supportive housing for persons with disabilities, permanent housing to move people from homelessness, energy efficiency and weatherization to make homes healthier and more affordable, repairs and rehabilitation to improve safety for homeowners, new construction to help first-time homebuyers begin to build equity, and so many more.

Addressing homelessness is becoming a greater priority across the country because communities realize it is intertwined with healthcare costs, educational advancement, transportation, economic development, and workforce development. I was approached by local leaders in the Northern Kentucky region in early 2018 about assisting a working group led by CVG’s Chief Executive Officer Candace McGraw. The purpose of the group was to better understand homelessness issues in Northern Kentucky. Data had to be the starting point for this endeavor and, because KHC collects homelessness data across the Commonwealth, we were the natural partner to assist. 

In our modern world, data drives everything and addressing homelessness in Kentucky is no different. The Housing Contract Administration Department at KHC administers homeless and special needs programs, including the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). The Kentucky HMIS is a requirement of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal partners, such as the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).  Through HMIS, those receiving funding to aid in homelessness (Continuum of Care, Emergency Solutions Grant, etc.) can aggregate data on the population served. The HMIS software houses data on a client-level basis on characteristics and service needs of those individuals. One important outcome of the HMIS is the ability to produce an unduplicated count of individuals experiencing homelessness in the United States.

A limitation of using data within HMIS is that it is only collected from service partners of KHC who receive federal funding. There are many local agencies, churches, and community groups who serve the homeless population, but are not receiving federal funds. McGraw brought the leadership of many federally funded and non-federally funded homeless service providers across the three-county region to the table to discuss how we might improve participation in HMIS. Organizations like the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, a non-federally funded organization, stepped up and began inputting its data in HMIS. 

HMIS already collects thirty different categories of information.  To better understand the origins of homelessness within the region, we added three questions to our current HMIS survey:

1) In what city and state did you attend high school?

2) In what city, county, and state was your last stable home before becoming homeless?

3) When did you last live in stable housing?

We began asking these questions on July 1, 2018 and began seeing trends as we collected the data for the first full year, ending June 30, 2019. During this year, there were 1,530 people who experienced homelessness across the three-county region. Almost a quarter of those (21 percent) were children. Over half (52 percent) reported at least one disability, with mental health problems, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse as the top three disabilities reported, respectively. The data also showed that almost half of those experiencing homelessness are originally from Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties, with the largest single group of people reporting that they graduated high school and had their last stable home in Covington. However, data also revealed that significant numbers of people from other cities in Northern Kentucky also struggle with homelessness.

While this new data collection is still relatively early in development, I commend Candace McGraw and other leaders for looking at the issue of homelessness from a regional perspective. It will take cohesiveness among our local leaders and service providers to do so and I’ve seen that willingness over the last year. Northern Kentucky is home for my family, and we need to address this issue if we’re going to advance the region. I know we can, and we will.

Edwin King is the Executive Director and CEO of the Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC) and is responsible for leading the Corporation’s strategies to develop and implement housing-related programs and services.