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Grays Harbor homelessness action plan is making a difference

Grays Harbor’s homelessness action plan is making a difference!

While it may not be easy to see for the average person, great work is being done to combat homelessness in Grays Harbor. And a lot of that success is a direct result of Cassie Lentz, who gathered all the stakeholders together to create a truly actionable five-year plan – the 2019-2024 Grays Harbor County Five Year Plan to Address Unmet Housing Needs.

We at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor are one of the organizations at the table, so we know of the impact firsthand.

When the plan was developed, Lentz was Grays Harbor County’s housing resource coordinator. Now she is Healthy Places manager for Grays Harbor County Public Health, overseeing the homeless housing program.

“We updated our homelessness action plan about a year ago and it is by far the most user-friendly of the plans that we have created over the years,” Lentz explained. “The plan lays out a clear scope of need and outlines the work that is already happening to address homelessness, as well as activities that the county will begin implementing. The plan also includes the gaps in services that still remain. The plan is pretty concrete. It spells out how many people need services, how many are receiving them and the size of the unmet need.”

Basically, right now about one in four individuals experiencing homelessness in Grays Harbor County is being served, she said.

By the nature of the problem, success in housing isn’t typically noticed – it means someone is now in a home. However, those who haven’t been helped are often more visible as you drive through town.

“Naturally in the community it appears like the problem is growing, because it is, but that doesn’t mean that fantastic work isn’t happening, because it is,” Lentz said. “We simply don’t have the resources to address this on a systemic level.”

“However, having an updated homelessness action plan puts us in a good position to be able to go after new and additional funding opportunities,” Lentz said. “We have a list of things that are needed in our community so we could quickly use the money to address the need.”

In fact, that happened in 2018, when the department received an increase in revenue and were able to quickly use that money for programs on its priority list. “It’s a real clear process that I think really added to what is available in the community, because groundwork had been laid,” she said.

In our last blog we talked with Craig Dublanko, the CEO of Coastal Community Action Program (CCAP), which is by far the county’s largest partner involved with fighting homelessness. (It is also the biggest agency Grays Harbor County contracts with for services.) Dublanko agreed that while the need for housing is still great, many people experiencing homelessness are being helped in a variety of ways, including finding housing.

In addition to those already mentioned, other partners include the Housing Authority of Grays Harbor, the Domestic Violence Center, the Union Gospel Mission and Friendship House programs, as well as other housing and homelessness providers in the community. Recently Family Promise of Grays Harbor joined the group with its niche of helping families that are homeless.

And now with the focus on fighting COVID-19, Lentz’s background in housing and other community-based services is coming in handy in her new responsibilities as Healthy Places manager at the health department.

As we mentioned in our last blog, this pandemic has spotlighted just how intrinsically connected housing is with health.

COVID-19 proves housing is health

In Grays Harbor, the history of so many organizations and nonprofit groups working so well together on homelessness issues has been a huge asset in these recent days of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Grays Harbor our Public Health Department and Department of Emergency Management quickly identified the needed to come together to join forces. They have been able to hit the ground running collaboratively and with one voice – something that is not happening in all other corners of the state. This has led to doing work more efficiently and effectively and to better serve our community,” Lentz said.

In fact, in addition to all the things you might think the Grays Harbor County Public Health would be doing during a pandemic – testing, contact tracing, education and supporting local healthcare providers – Lentz and a dedicated team have also been leading efforts to prepare isolation and quarantine facilities for people who don’t have another place to do so safely.

Think about it. Where should someone who is homeless go to isolate if they got sick? What about someone in jail or someone in a two-bedroom apartment housing eight people? Or someone whose caregiver is in a high-risk population?

Well, Grays Harbor County Public Health has been busy preparing two such facilities. (As of our deadline, the locations hadn’t been made public.)

Yes, this team has been spending hours and hours, along with partners in the community to create safe places for individuals who are unable to isolate or quarantine at home. For everyone’s wellbeing, the plan is that hospitals are reserved for people who need to be hospitalized.

“We have secured those isolation and quarantine sites, the supplies needed, security, and a way to do laundry, cleaning and prepare food,” she said.

So, lots of time and effort have been put into organizing two isolation and quarantine sites that everyone is hoping will not have to be used.

“This is a unique crisis, not the kind that most people are used to dealing with so it’s an entirely different set of challenges to put this facility into place,” Lentz said. “It’s taken some creative planning and problem solving. Typically with other disasters, you can house people together in one big room.”

“We are really hopeful that we’ve over-prepared and won’t need to use these facilities – that would be a success,” she added.

And we here at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor are also hoping that after this pandemic has passed, that people will be more aware than ever of finding ways to help the needy and those experiencing homelessness. The health of our most vulnerable residents is key to a healthy community for all of us.

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