April 6, 2020

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Homelessness @ Functional Zero

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Three Oaks Center opened in 1996 in Lexington Park, MD, with the initial goal of sheltering homeless men. Shelters in Southern Maryland at the time were available to women and children, but not yet entire families, and none for single men.

Three Oaks has grown into a leader, battling homelessness on all fronts and providing services needed to address the causes of homelessness. The organization recently reached the landmark of “functional zero” homelessness in Southern Maryland. It is an accomplishment Three Oaks officials attribute to successes fostered when they became a Supportive Services for Veterans Families provider in 2012. In four years, Three Oaks has helped 424 families remain housed, some families already had been homeless when Three Oaks arrived in their lives.

“It was a very much needed and a very successful program for our literally homeless,” emphasized Sasha M. Seenath, program coordinator of  veteran services for Three Oaks. “Living on park benches, living in buildings, homes that were not habitable. … It really brings to your face … we should never have our veterans treated that way.”

That is over, that does not have to happen now, with a piece of the supportive services program allowing that to happen, Ms. Seenath said.

“The goal is to end homelessness for vets. The need was met,” she said of the SSV program administered out of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

This has brought Southern Maryland very nearly to a landmark called “functional zero.”

This doesn’t mean that everyone in Southern Maryland is adequately sheltered, Three Oaks Center Director Lanny Lancaster said. What it does mean is that everyone in Southern Maryland who applies for shelter can find shelter. It does not mean that everyone is living in adequate housing. Multiple generations of families are living together out of need. There remain homeless people who do not wish to be sheltered, Mr. Lancaster emphasized. No one is forced into shelter, but it is available to all who seek it, he said. That’s functional zero.

It requires more than providing a certain number of beds. The SSV program addresses a veteran’s legal, medical, and housing needs, explained Ms. Seenath. Whatever it is that the individual requires for the family to regain its footing, housing, rehabilitation, the program seeks to get those services for the veteran. That full-family approach is what produced the success of helping 424 families to have permanent homes, she said.

And Three Oaks’ full community approach helps, as well.

The program “has to work as a community to get to functional zero,” Ms. Seenath said. “It was the efforts of all three counties. It has to be a community effort.”

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