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Project Outreach St. Louis targets homelessness among 3 key groups

Volunteers look for people experiencing homelessness at the Delmar Loop Metro stop in July 2016 during St. Louis County's summer point-in-time count.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Volunteers look for people experiencing homelessness at the Delmar Loop Metro stop in July 2016 during St. Louis County's summer Point-in-Time count.

A St. Louis non-profit is creating opportunities aimed at reducing homelessness in the city.

Project Outreach St. Louis launched in early December with a goal to cut homeless rates among youth aging out of foster care, veterans and previously incarcerated people in the St. Louis area.

But the goal of Project Outreach St. Louis isn’t just to provide housing to these groups; it’s to give the individuals the resources and skills to retain and invest in their own housing.

“I knew I wanted to do something around training and development,” said founder Toni Wade. “Because there are so many policies out there that have impacted these populations, it sort of stuck them with what they could do.”

Project Outreach St. Louiswill implement several programs, the first of which is called Back To Life. Wade said the goal of this phase is to provide stable housing for men who have served time in jail or prison. The two-year training period will include furnished housing.

“At the end of the two years, after we give them all of these sustainable skills, they will have a home that they will purchase as an investment property,” Wade said.

Project Outreach will then broaden the program so other participants can also learn how to invest in and own property, she said.

A group effort

Wade and her team spent the last year communicating with probation and parole officers who recommended people who could be a good fit for the program. Wade said six people will be chosen to participate in the first phase. Wade has also partnered with the HomeQuest Group, which describes itself as a real estate investing company that helps underserved and underrepresented people find housing.

Project Outreach "really focused on that housing piece and trying to learn how we can apply some of those best practices that we’ve seen in other communities,” said Irene Agustin, the director of Human Services for St. Louis.

“Between St. Louis city and county, we have just a little under 1,400 individuals who are experiencing homelessness within our community,” Agustin said.

That number of homeless persons is according to the 2018 Point-In-Time count, she said.

The Point-in-Time count is survey mandated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to track homeless populations. The next count will occur in January.

Current data shows veteran homelessness has decreased from 187 people in 2017, to 152 in 2018. But while there are fewer homeless veterans, there are more young people who are homeless, including teens who age out of foster care at 18.

“We’ve seen growing trends in terms of youth homelessness,” Agustin said. “In terms of those trends, that’s not just something we’re seeing in St. Louis, but it’s something have nationally as well.”

Getting to zero

Agustin said officials are looking into the best practices from other cities, in getting to what homeless advocates call “functional zero.” The term refers to an “efficient community system that assures homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring.”

In early December, Rockford, Illinois became the first city to achieve functional zero among homeless veterans and the second city to do so for chronic homelessness.  

Project Outreach is aiming for similar results.

“We’re not going to do this alone and or in a bubble, Agustin said. “We’re going to figure out from all our resources how can we be successful in a community.”

The next Point In Time count will take place Jan.31. The results will be made public in May.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.