Charlotte County struggled with a low paying service workforce, lack of affordable housing, poverty, and homelessness long before the pandemic. When COVID hit, the challenges in fighting those issues only grew. But by the end of 2020, the community managed to achieve a goal that few other communities have. Charlotte County met the benchmarks required to effectively end chronic homelessness. This means that long-lasting and recurring homelessness was essentially eliminated in the community.
Chronic homelessness is defined in 42 U.S.C. 11360 McKinney-Vento Act Section 401(2), as:
An individual or family that is homeless and resides in a place not meant for human habitation or in an emergency shelter, AND has been homeless and residing in such a place for at least one yearor has been homeless on at least four separate occasions in the last three years, AND the Head of household must have a diagnosable substance use disorder, serious mental illness, developmental disability, post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive impairments resulting from a brain injury, or chronic physical illness or disability.
While new instances of homelessness will never be completely erased, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), an end to homelessness means that a community will have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is a rare, brief, and one-time experience. Specifically, a small community like Charlotte, will have met the criteria for ending chronic homelessness on the initial date in which the total number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness is three or less.
In 2017, Charlotte County was recognized by USICH for having “Effectively Ending Veteran Homelessness.” Since that time, the local homeless services team, known as One Charlotte, has re-tooled their strategy and response system to meet the unique needs of persons experiencing chronic homelessness. In December of 2020, the community hit the threshold required for declaring an end to chronic homelessness.
Between April of 2017 and December of 2020, the One Charlotte Team housed more than 150 chronically homeless persons, of those housed, more than 85 percent have remained permanently housed - far exceeding the national average of 52 percent.
Charlotte County has achieved this success because they are committed to providing health, housing, and financial stability for the community’s most vulnerable through an Integrated Care Model. This model ensures clients served have improved access to health care, communication and coordination of care, health status, housing options and financial sustainability through access to benefits and employment.
Persons experiencing chronic homelessness, particularly those with trauma history, mental illnesses, and co-occurring disorders, have substantially greater difficulty navigating mental health, health, and social service systems. Building trust with a mix of unknown care providers, who may not treat them with dignity and respect, often prevents individuals from seeking care.
Through an Integrated Care approach, One Charlotte serves clients holistically, addressing not just one issue, but multiple factors that can cause, and extend homelessness and crisis - simultaneously working on mental health, medical care, pharmacy services, housing and increasing financial resources. The One Charlotte Team is a collaboration between Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic, Charlotte County Homeless Coalition, Charlotte Behavioral Health Care, Gulf Coast Partnership, Jesus Loves You Street Outreach, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Saint Vincent dePaul CARES, Charlotte County Human and Veteran’s Services, Punta Gorda Police Department, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department, United Way of Charlotte County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Charlotte Community Foundation. These partners work collaboratively to ensure optimal care and treatment of the community’s most vulnerable.
Charlotte County is now setting benchmarks for their next goals of ending homelessness for unaccompanied youth and families with children.