Lynchburg advocacy groups bringing down homelessness numbers

LYNCHBURG (WSLS 10) - The City of Lynchburg has seen a dramatic decrease in its homeless population over the past year.

In fact, the city is seeing its lowest number of homeless individuals since before 2008.

Advocates say it's thanks to a program that was started three years ago, making it easier to rapidly find housing for people in crisis.

Lynchburg made a fairly unusual move last year by allocating $65,000 to fund a full-time position at the Coordinated Homeless Intake and Access, or CHIA, office.

Now, people needing homeless services in the City turn there first to find services, and the process is working.

Eight months ago, former US Marine Rory Haskins was living out of his car.

He says a divorce and two bad knees that keep him from working led to that point, but when he first sought help, it was nowhere to be found.

"They didn't have anything in Danville where I was at. So when I went to Roanoke, or to Salem rather, I found out that they were starting a program in Lynchburg," said Haskins.

A program called the Continuum of Care.

It's a cooperation between several homeless advocacy groups to get as many people off the streets as possible.

The process begins in the central intake office.

"Our CHIA coordinator really helps to identify which program to quickly get them into. We have three rapid re-housing programs," said Director of Housing Development Denise Crews.

CHIA Coordinator Megan Wood says hers is a new position that Lynchburg just began funding full-time last year.

"Since I am the single-point entry, it's more client-focused, so the client doesn't have to go here and there, they can just call one number and I can offer them some resources," said Wood.

One of those resources is a veteran-housing program that Haskins was able to take advantage of.

"I think it was September I want to say I started talking to miss Jones, and by October, I had my apartment," said Haskins.

Now, he has a place for his children, and 10 grandchildren, to come visit him.

In Lynchburg, he's just one of more than 30 success stories from 2015 alone.

Wood says in addition to the ease of the process, people now are getting the services better catered to them.

"Once you start having that conversation with a client, they may not need emergency shelter. They might need rental counseling or they might need help with a utility bill," said Wood.

Haskins says for him, this is just one small step on his journey back to normalcy, but it's the best he's felt in years.

"I've got me an apartment now, not staying in the car, I'm happy, it feels good," said Haskins.

The program has achieved some other fairly astounding statistics over the past few years.

Between 2007 and 2013, the Continuum jumped from serving 89 women and children to 163, and while in 2007 only 13% of those women on average found permanent housing in 2013, that number jumped to 81%.

Last year, Lyn-CAG, the program that ultimately found Rory his housing, received $300 thousand in grant funding.

It has already applied for another grant this year.