In Greensboro, the total number of people experiencing homelessness — both sheltered and unsheltered — is 452 according to 2023 Point-In-Time count data.

The count is a federally mandated “census” of the total population experiencing homelessness that takes place every year in each US county. 

Now, the city is considering a new policy that would give preference to unhoused city residents for supportive services such as case management, shelter, etc., according to a plan discussed during Thursday’s city council work session. People could be required to verify their residency in order to receive services. However, Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Michelle Kennedy clarified that they will always provide services to anyone who has been displaced from a permanent residence within the last 12 months through a natural disaster, domestic violence, veterans, landlord action or someone who lives with the primary resident who was displaced. Minors who are 16-17 years old, and any adults who are at immediate risk due to pregnancy or a medical condition would also meet the criteria to receive services.

On Thursday, Mayor Nancy Vaughan mentioned that the last council meetings have been filled with discussion of “homelessness and what we can do, what we should do.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan

Multiple unhoused residents signed up to speak at Monday’s city council meeting, sharing their stories and requesting help.

“People are coming here because they know that we are a caring, welcoming community,” Vaughan said on Thursday, noting that “there seems to be an influx into the city of Greensboro.”

“One thing that I think we all recognize is that we have very limited resources,” she said.

But a look at Point-In-Time data collected by Guilford County from the last several years shows that 452 is actually a decline from year’s past.

In 2016, the count noted 721 people experiencing homelessness. From 2017-20, the numbers have fluctuated with 624 residents counted in 2020. However, in 2021, that number dropped to 482. In 2022, the number dropped to 426.

The Point-In-Time data counts the number of homeless people including both sheltered and unsheltered individuals. A majority of those counted are those who are sheltered.

However, various entities have pointed out that the Point-In-Time count is an incomplete look at the number of unhoused people in a community. A 2020 study by the US Government Accountability Office noted that “HUD’s count likely underestimated the homeless population” and that “data collected through the Point-in-Time (PIT) count—a count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night—have limitations for measuring homelessness.”

The purpose of Thursday’s discussion was to “take the temperature” and see if this policy is something the city should pursue, Vaughan said. They can come back to it later with more details.

Housing and Neighborhood Development Director Michelle Kennedy presented the framework for this prospective action plan.

“As we’ve been really looking at the rise in homelessness across our community and the issue of people coming into the community — seeking services and our limited resources — we had to look at all options available to us to address this,” Kennedy said.

“This does not mean that we will not serve someone who is not from Greensboro,” Kennedy added, saying, “It means that preference is given to people who are our residents. If we have resources left after that, we will certainly serve anyone else who [is unhoused] in our community but we have to figure out how to prioritize the people who truly live in our community.”

There are a lot of “diversion” activities that need to take place, Kennedy said, as well as emergency services that can be provided to people who are from other communities.

“Diversion is really a key aspect in homeless services, you want to get somebody back to their family, or back to a supportive community, whether that’s here or in a different place.”

How will the city define who is a resident?

“We really need to define what is the timeframe for determining [whether] you’re a resident,” Kennedy said, adding that other communities have different models for qualifying for residency; some have a 90-day rule while others say 12 months. Councilmember Tammi Thurm said she would like to see the residency requirement be longer than 90 days; she would feel more comfortable with a timeframe of around six months.

The question becomes, Kennedy said, how do you determine where someone who is experiencing homelessness “really live[s]?”

Michelle Kennedy

Kennedy said that they could get verification from supportive services such as the Interactive Resource Center — a day center for the unhoused — where people can receive mail and other services.

“That partner agency could certify that person’s homelessness and that they have been receiving services in this community” for a certain amount of time,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy was formerly the executive director of the IRC.

There are a number of ways that residency could be defined and it will be a continued discussion between the mayor, council and city staff.

Other means of validation were brought up by Vaughan, such as if an unhoused person has been receiving medical services at healthcare providers in Greensboro or if they have a child in school there. 

What this new policy would mean for their partner organizations, Kennedy said, is if they’re giving an agency funding, “we’re intending that every dollar that we provide is going to provide services for residents of the city of Greensboro. Doesn’t mean that agency can’t provide services to someone from Rockingham County, but our money and our resources need to be spent on residents of the city.” 

If they give a certain amount of money to a partner organization, that will represent a certain number of people who need to be residents, she said.

“The way that that will ultimately work is if they’re saying, ‘We spent $10,000,’ you need to be able to indicate that that $10,000 is connected to individuals from within the city of Greensboro,” Kennedy said.

She added that if an organization is “still sitting on money,” then they “can serve someone from outside the city.”

“We’re drowning, and it’s getting worse,” Kennedy said.

“Unless we establish some parameters and some boundaries around the services that we offer, we’re not going to make it through this,” she added.

Councilmember Hugh Holston expressed concern that this policy could create “two classes of the unsheltered.”

“I think we’re making a conscious decision that the city of Greensboro can’t be responsible for the homeless community of 4-5 counties,” Kennedy responded, adding, “we have to primarily be responsible for the people who live within our municipality.”

“None of us want to leave people to languish — ever,” Kennedy said.

She added that it is “the most difficult thing in the world to decide who gets services and who doesn’t.”

This potential policy “kind of sends a message,” Vaughan said.

When “people are deciding where they’re gonna go to try to get services,” Vaughan said, they will “realize that there is a priority, and they might not likely get services if they come here.”

Guilford County is seeking volunteers for its annual Point-In-Time count on Jan. 24-25. Learn more and sign up here.

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