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Web of Assistance

Local homeless-service provider aims to create a database of individuals and services.

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When the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced its homeless-assistance awards February 20th, it granted $4.6 million to programs helping the homeless in Memphis. HUD's Continuum of Care program rewards local agencies nationwide for meeting the needs of their homeless populations and funds promising new programs.

"It's a performance-based competition," explains Pat Morgan, author of the grant application and executive director of Partners for the Homeless. "We got $1.5 million more than our fair share, because we have been strategic in how we've gone after the dollars."

Before joining Partners eight years ago, Morgan worked for the U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless in Washington.

"I follow the golden rule: The one with the gold makes the rules," she says. "In Washington, we looked at the best practices and research from around the country."

Along with organizations such as MIFA and Catholic Charities, Partners is a member of the Coalition for the Homeless, a local association that coordinates the efforts of member organizations to assure that services are available. HUD defines the needs of the homeless as permanent and transitional housing, job training, mental-health counseling, substance-abuse treatment, and child care.

"The funding will continue as long as the programs are doing what they're supposed to," Morgan adds. The $1.5 million increase from last year will finance several new programs. One will develop permanent housing for chronically homeless disabled people. Another will build 24 units of permanent housing for people who frequently land in jail on charges of vagrancy or panhandling.

Partners' portion of the grant will develop the Homeless Management Information System, a database of homeless individuals in the city. It will include a person's name, race, Social Security number, and date of birth. The data will allow various local agencies to track the homeless population and see who's accessing services and for how long.

"We can look at this huge database and see who's been where. We're developing a Web-based system that all of the agencies can look at," Morgan says.

The improvements in local data gathering contributed to the overall effectiveness of homeless services. The National Coalition to End Homelessness reported earlier this year that only .5 percent of Memphis' homeless population live unsheltered on the street, while 44 percent of the homeless live unsheltered nationally.

Despite the city's respectable record, Morgan sees one major need.

"How are we going to get these people from the streets and into the [existing] housing? That's a piece that we're missing," she says. "We have some outreach, but it's not built into [agencies'] goals to get people their benefits and get them housed."

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