It's around 6 a.m., and the tiniest hint of daylight is shining over a homeless encampment in Washington Bottoms, revealing crude tents made with tarp and string, stacks of dirty mattresses, and ground littered with plates, cups, books, and clothing.
County commissioner Steve Mulroy has just awakened a man sleeping under a tarp. The man, who appears to be in his late 20s, emerges fully dressed in ragged jeans and a hoodie. Mulroy asks the man a series of questions about his physical and mental health and substance abuse history, as he jots each answer down on a paper survey held by a clipboard.
Mulroy is one of eight volunteers on a team surveying homeless people in the Poplar/Cleveland/Claybrook area on day one of last week's three-day 100K Homes Campaign led by the Community Alliance for the Homeless. Around 80 volunteers scattered throughout the county in teams, after meeting at Calvary Episcopal Church at 4:45 a.m. Based on the answers
received, the 100 most vulnerable will be placed in permanent housing.
"Most vulnerable is what is considered tri-morbidity. That means they have mental health, medical, and substance abuse issues," said Katie Kitchin, director of the Community Alliance for the Homeless. "But even just medical and mental health issues together would put someone in significant jeopardy when they live outside."
Over the three days, volunteers surveyed 259 homeless people. After entering their answers into a database designed to score people based on greatest risk, 135 of them were deemed "most vulnerable." Next, trained professionals will hit the streets again for a more detailed follow-up assessment with those people.
So far, the Community Alliance has secured 55 one-bedroom and efficiency apartments to house those most at risk, and Kitchin says they should soon reach their goal of 100 homes by January with the help of some community partnerships. Grants from the Office of Housing and Community Development helped the group secure the homes they have.
Once housed, people can stay in the apartments as long as they like, but they'll be required to pay 30 percent of their incomes.
"They'll all be disabled, so if they don't come in with disability income, we'll help them access that," Kitchin said. "It's a very laborious process, so it's understandable that people who qualify for disability don't have it."
On Monday, the agency kicked off a campaign to raise $100,000 to furnish the apartments. At the press conference, Robert Lipscomb, director of the city's division of housing and community development, announced the city would donate $25,000.
In addition to providing housing, the Community Alliance will also pair the newly housed with social services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, thanks to a $250,000 contribution from the Shelby County Commission earlier this year.
"The goal of permanent housing is to take away the psychological pressure of timelines," Kitchin said. "It allows people to get better and healthier on their own. But many people will eventually move on to less expensive and less intensive programs once they get better."
The local 100K Homes event is part of a national effort to place 100,000 homeless people into permanent housing by July.