DOWNEY - Nearly 40 men, women, and youth are currently street homeless in Downey according to a recent survey conducted by Downey Counts, a community-driven, street-to-home initiative spearheaded by the Moravian Church of Downey, Our Place Housing Solutions, and Kingdom Causes Bellflower. In fact, 19 of the homeless respondents surveyed during the course of the three-day campaign are considered vulnerable and at risk of premature death if they continue living without proper housing.
"Homelessness isn't deadly, but health issues are dangerous," said Marina Flores of One Place Housing Solutions. "This is an issue the entire county struggles with. The survey tells us who is the most sick, in jeopardy, and the most expensive to stay on the streets."
The by-name registry was collected between Jan. 29-31 during the nighttime as nearly 60 community volunteers, including some city councilmen, canvassed the streets and riverbeds of Downey surveying individuals using the Common Solutions' Vulnerability Index, a 41-item questionnaire.
Mayor Mario Guerra, who walked the streets with volunteers, called the experience "eye opening" and "humbling."
"I was very anxious to go out there," he said. "We all know there's a problem, but there's not just one solution. I don't have all the answers, but this is a start. These are our neighbors - we can get this done through compassion, dedication, and commitment."
According to the Homeless Count survey 12 individuals reported being homeless five years or more. Five of the respondents were 60 years of age or older and are in need of immediate housing. The youngest respondent was 21-years-old.
Thirty-one percent of the people surveyed reported having mental health issues while 90% reported a history of substance abuse. Ninety percent also reported having had at least one inpatient hospitalization in the past 12 months and 59% of those living on the streets of Downey said they had visited the emergency room in just the last 3 months.
Four of those surveyed were military veterans, one was honorably discharged.
"It's a sad thing that a veteran who was honorably discharged is now living on the streets," said Rev. Christie Melby-Gibbons of the Moravian Church of Downey who co-coordinated the Homeless Count effort.
Downey was just one of 100 communities nationwide participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national movement to help identify and house 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless people in the country by July 2014. Downey Counts is hoping to provide housing for 10 of the most chronic homeless in the city by February 2014.
Councilman Alex Saab also assisted in the effort, which he called a community responsibility.
"We had some apprehension and some fear, but there was nothing to fear. We have an obligation to help them," said Saab who along with Guerra personally donated $500 towards the project. "One homeless person is too many."
Melby-Gibbons is now encouraging residents to support the organization's efforts by volunteering for future outreach projects, attending upcoming trainings, and donating quality furniture, toiletries, and kitchenware.
"Or commit to give $1,000 to move someone from the streets into their home," she said. "We want to provide housing for 10 of the most vulnerable - and it's totally feasible."
To learn more information or donate to Downey Counts, please contact Melby-Gibbons at (562) 927-0718 or Christie@downeymoravian.org.
********** Published: Febuary 7, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 43