ROCKFORD - "I came here without a prayer, without a clue, I had no place to go, nowhere, I was homeless," said Rockford resident Keith Green as he reflected on his days living on the streets of Rockford.
Green now lives in North Main Manor, a Rockford Housing Authority property. He has been living there for eight years now. "Once you get your foot on some solid ground you'll see bigger things and you can see a broader picture, and you'll want to do bigger things," Green added.
Green is an example of Rockford's participation in two federal programs designed to find homes for the chronically homeless and homeless veterans. It started in 2015, and Rockford has been very successful.
Those efforts that have not gone unnoticed.
"We've just recently been asked to participate in an upcoming campaign that will be to end overall homelessness." said Angie Walker, Housing Advocate for the Rockford Human Services Department. The feds want Rockford's help to build up its homeless program, 'Built For Zero.'
"It would be a smaller program for, basically, communities that they hand select and they have asked us to participate in it, so we are pretty excited about it," Walker added. Walker says one strategy the city uses with success, is finding the homeless shelter first.
"You don't make them go to treatment or mental health counseling, or get a job right now," Walker said. "Once they are housed, all the things fall into place, shortly," she added.
Mike Hedrick, of the Rockford Rescue Mission, believes housing is important, but adds that health is a necessity before taking the next step.
"The Rockford Rescue Mission believes that while housing first is a great thing, we also feel that wraparound services are absolutely essential in order to have someone remain permanently housed," Hedrick said.
Hedrick believes much of Rockford's success comes from the collaboration of the city's several agencies to help the homeless. "At the end of the day, it's all about helping people from homelessness and despair, to emotional and spiritual wholeness," he said. "Getting them out to be successful members of society again. Like I said, we don't agree on everything, but we can agree to disagree to help the people," he added.
In addition to Rockford being a part of the 'Built For Zero's' program expansion, the city will be a part of a case study, done by a group called 'Community Solutions', that will be presented at a Federal conference. The intention will be to show how Rockford has been able to successfully reduce it's overall rate of homelessness.
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