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County commissioners recently recognized the Wilson County Department of Social Services and its community partners for receiving the National Association of Counties Achievement Award for Wilson's collaborative work implementing Solutions for Homelessness.
The Solutions for Homelessness initiative was a joint effort between DSS, Hope Station, the Wilson Housing Authority and Wilson Energy through the leadership of the Wilson-Greene Regional Housing Committee.
Emergency Solutions Grant funds are used to rapidly re-house families and individuals. Wilson County agencies have worked together to house families in the greatest need, officials said. The Wilson-Greene Regional Housing Committee served as the backbone agent for collective impact with respect to addressing homelessness, officials said.
The funding, which was secured by the Wilson County DSS and is administered by Hope Station, allows for the rapid rehousing of families and individuals with an emphasis on serving victims of domestic violence, families with children and veterans.
Wilson County DSS is able to access funding to assist with utilities or furniture and household items. The social services department also has a Faith Connections program that is a network of more than 60 churches that respond with in-kind donations as well as financial contributions when families are in need.
Hope Station implements the Emergency Solutions Grant work in the community which requires housing inspections, coordinating services and addressing multiple barriers such as unemployment and mental health challenges. Hope Station employs a social worker through that grant funding to provide a single point of contact for families in need.
Wilson Energy offered to waive partial late utility fees to help those in the program.
Through advocacy via the Wilson-Greene Regional Housing Committee, the Wilson Housing Authority changed its service definitions to prioritize homeless families and individuals. The WHA maintains a waiting list for homeless families and individuals only, according to officials.
In 2015, 86 individuals were assisted with housing; for 2016, 96 individuals have moved from homelessness into permanent housing. Of the 96 individuals served, 65 percent are women, with a large number of single-parent households. Forty percent were experiencing homelessness for the first time; 29 percent have been victims of domestic violence and 26 percent reported a disability.
"We are pleased to receive this recognition from NACo," said Wilson County DSS Director Glenn Osborne. "We are grateful for our relationships with our community partners as of much of the work we do is (affected) by the success of our collaboration with community partners. We've also seen that we can have a greater impact in the community by working together."
The National Association of Counties awards recognition to innovative, effective county government programs that enhance services for residents. Nationally, awards are given in 18 categories that reflect the vast range of services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice, county administration, information technology, health and civic engagement, among others.
The association recognized award-winning counties, including the Wilson County DSS, at its annual July conference in Ohio.