ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services, with the help of local charities launched a 24-hour Homeless Information Line.
The hotline, that is staffed with trained specialists, provides a resource to deliver information on services and shelters designed to help the homeless.
“Launching an information line is vital to ensuring that community members experiencing homelessness have a direct connection to life-saving resources,” said Councilmember Evan Glass. “Knowing where to receive a warm meal, how to access income assistance programs and finding housing are all key components to eradicating homelessness in Montgomery County.”
The Homeless Information Line is a partnership between the county and EveryMind, an organization based in Rockville that has resources meant to elevate mental wellness, educate the community on self-care skills and provide support for all walks of life.
“We have to find a way to move past the stigma (of mental health) that gets in the way of wholeness and wellness,” they wrote in their mission statement.
The information line is a helpful addition to the other programs and resources already established in Montgomery County.
“This hotline is a way to prevent individuals from reaching a crisis point,” said Glass.
Ann Mazur, the chief executive officer at EveryMind, explained that the idea for the information line came from discussions with other charitable organizations.
“As we all talked, we realized this information line was something we all really wanted,” she said.
The information line helps to connect other resources. For instance, a caller can learn about resources that are more specific to their needs be it homelessness, suicide prevention or assisting in a crisis call. EveryMind’s Division Director of Adult and Community Services Jennifer Grinnell explained that the information line is also equipped with trained staffers.
“Our staffers are also training to answer and assist crisis calls,” she said.
The information line is accredited by the American Association of Suicidology, an organization founded in 1968 which created the original crisis hotline.
Staffers at EveryMind who answer the 24-hour information line are trained for several weeks and then participate in a shadowing period before they answer calls on their own.
Grinnell explained that staffers have extra training on how to help callers interested in learning more about homelessness in the area.
“We created a sort of decision tree for staffers, so they know how to handle callers and direct people,” Grinnell said.
Mazur estimated that about 20 percent of calls the information line receives are dealing with suicide or self-harm. But so far, people have also used the information line to talk with someone who can just lend an ear. According to Mazur, staffers are often than using their supportive listening skills to help callers feel heard and help find solutions to the problems they’re facing.
The information line bolsters the outreach efforts EveryMind already has in place. Grinnell explained that the organization has staff that canvasses the community to engage with the homeless population and conduct public education.
The information line can also be used by members of the community who do not suffer from homelessness themselves but want to help someone who might be on the brink of losing their place to stay.
Mazur explained that EveryMind also accepts walk-ins to their facility in Rockville, which sees a fair number to people seeking assistance.
For members of the community struggling with homelessness or without access to a phone to call the information line, many Montgomery County Libraries have phones available and many shelters also offer telephones.
Montgomery County’s homeless resources have helped the community’s veteran population that struggles with housing instability. Since 2015 the county has permanently ended homelessness for 148 veterans in the area.
Glass explained that the county has been working hard in recent years to decrease the number of people experiencing homelessness.
“We have reached functional zero for homelessness in vets,” Glass said, “and we are close to reaching functional zero for individuals as well.”
Functional zero is reached when the number of people experiencing homelessness in a community is less than the average number of people who are being connected with permanent housing each month, Glass explained.
“One of the core functions of local government is to ensure housing for people,” Glass said. “We need to do right by all those people.
This year, County Executive Marc Elrich has increased funding in the budget for efforts related to homelessness, he added. Glass plans to continue his work on policies that will support those living in vulnerable situations.
“I will be looking through the county executive’s funding proposals to achieve the goal that no one is without a home,” he said.