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Effort aims to end homelessness in city

Homeless people might not be as visible in Buffalo as in cities such as San Francisco, Miami and Washington, D.C.

But an any night here, 2,100 men, women and children are without homes of their own, some of them living in emergency shelters, others on the street.

Now, for the first time, a coalition of human service providers and advocates for the homeless has come up with an ambitious plan to end chronic homelessness in the area by 2016.

The plan, 18 months in the making, emphasizes an aggressive public awareness campaign, more sophisticated oversight of those at risk of becoming homeless and better efforts to connect low-income residents with state and federal programs.

Mayor Byron W. Brown backed the effort this morning during a news conference unveiling the 39-page document, "PRISM: A Community Solution to Homelessness."

Brown labeled homelessness a major community problem and pledged to help stamp it out with the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, the lead agency that created the document.

The Homeless Alliance launched its planning efforts in 2004 with an unusual study: Surveyors took to the streets of Buffalo for a whole day and night interviewing homeless people. The results guided the writing of the document, which will serve as a 10-year plan for the city and county. Similar plans exist in more than a dozen other communities around the country.

The study found that, once first becoming homeless, people usually fall into a continuing cycle of homelessness.

"Most folks are homeless more than once," said William O'Connell, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. "The recidivism is really incredible."

But the study also found that those receiving state and federal benefits were less likely to be homeless, even though their incomes were still well below the poverty line.

"That income suggested a mild protective effect," said Katie McHugh Connolly, coordinator of the 10-year plan and author of the report.

Those findings indicate that agencies, community groups and government can do a better job helping people apply for and get "mainstream resources" to which they are entitled, the report says.

"This is really an issue of poverty," said O'Connell.

The 10-year plan involved more than 60 area human service agencies, funders and government organizations.

It will help focus a hodgepodge of millions of dollars in homelessness funding on "gaps in service" and encourage collaboration and cooperation among agencies, McHugh Connolly said.

The 14 goals include developing a comprehensive inventory of affordable housing; maximizing use of a new management information system to collect up-to-date data on the homeless; and creating more permanent housing.

Organizers of the plan said public awareness will be a key to ending chronic homelessness, which is defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a condition of homelessness for one year or longer or four or more times in a three-year period.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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