COLUMBIA CITY Council’s selection of the United Way of the Midlands to coordinate the effort to address homelessness is another positive step in meeting the need of some of our most needy citizens.
Columbia officials had sought a group that could not only oversee the city’s efforts but coordinate with others aiding the homeless across the region. The task is a challenging one that will demand coordination and working relationships with dozens of organizations.
While we’re sure the United Way will have to build some new alliances, it has been collaborating with many key players in Lexington and Richland counties for some time now. It works in conjunction with as many different groups as any other entity and has shown the ability to do so effectively. As a matter of fact, about two dozen organizations that assist homeless populations wrote letters endorsing having the United Way as coordinator.
The charitable organization has grown to be a key catalyst in the effort to improve the lives of the homeless. It played a major role in the development of the Transitions homeless center and works closely with the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless, the Salvation Army and many others.
The United Way serves as the lead Housing and Urban Development agency for the Midlands Area Consortium on Homelessness, whose member agencies provide direct services, shelter and housing to assist homeless citizens. It manages the web-based Homeless Management Information System, which coordinates shelter and services for people who are homeless.
According to the United Way’s proposal, the objective is to provide “an opportunity to strengthen coordination of homeless systems and to increase resources for housing.” The charity will add two positions — a homeless coordinator and a housing coordinator — to those it already has working on homelessness. Among other things, the homeless coordinator will focus on ensuring coordination between service providers and law enforcement; engage and convene local meal providers to ensure common protocol for food safety and meal scheduling; and help disseminate information to homeless people regarding new services, housing or emergency shelter. The housing coordinator will, among other things, identify safe, affordable rental housing for the homeless and develop materials and strategies for educating and recruiting landlords willing to help place homeless individuals and families.
Initially, the United Way didn’t bid on providing a winter emergency shelter, which also is not surprising considering the city had ended the 24/7 operation it had been running instead of a winter shelter and had not identified a location for a new emergency shelter. The United Way later came back with a plan for an inclement weather center at 191 Calhoun on nights when the temperature is expected to drop to 40 degrees or below through April 1.
The agreement between the United Way and the city, which has yet to be finalized, begins as a one-year deal that runs through Sept. 30, 2015. Given how uniquely equipped the United Way is to handle this job, we suspect this arrangement will be in place much longer than that.