Maegan Zielinski works to reduce homelessness
For MAEGAN ZIELINSKI, Continuum of Care director for the Cape Fear Council of Governments, collaboration is key.
Continuum of Care is an alliance of service providers and government agencies with the goal of reducing and eliminating homelessness in the Cape Fear Region.
Sometimes that coordination among so many different entities can be a challenge, so Zielinski created the Coordinated Entry system, a housing prioritization process.
“My department rallied all the partners together to meet weekly, staff the list, and accept referrals,” Zielinski said.
Organizations like A Safe Place, the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc., First Fruit Ministries, and Coastal Horizons Center, among many others, banded together and implemented the Coordinated Entry system in June 2018.
The system helps an average of 400 individuals and families who have been homeless for a long time and track their outcomes.
During these weekly Coordinated Entry meetings, community partners prioritize those with the highest needs who have completed a vulnerability assessment through one of the partners, the Salvation Army.
Those with the highest scores are linked with housing first.
Collaboration is necessary, but many services were being duplicated since each organization was working in “silos,” she says.
Now the CoC runs things through the Salvation Army of Cape Fear and Major Mark Craddock, corps officer, has expanded the assessments making them mobile and bringing them in high traffic areas, according to Zielinski.
“The assessment is not a guarantee of housing. We are very transparent with folks because honesty is really the best policy. We do not want to give empty promises,” Zielinski says. “Distrust of the system makes people not want to work with us. There are just so many people trying to access limited resources.”
The CoC covers three counties, New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick, and works with limited federal assistance, forcing prioritization of those who have been affected by disasters, domestic violence, etc.
Finding homes for those in need of one is not a new challenge for Zielinski.
She started her career in Austin, Texas as a case manager for the homeless population there.
“Veterans, youth with mental health issues, people with substance abuse issues, you name it, I have worked with it,” Zielinski says.
The focus of her job was finding housing for the homeless working as a landlord location outreach specialist.
“It was really hard work, but very rewarding,” Zielinski said. “Now, I work on the other side of the curtain.”
Since coming to Wilmington, Zielinski has found it more difficult to find homes for the homeless here than in Austin.
“Austin had tons of housing, but here, we have to hit the same landlords over and over, and many are reluctant to work with our most vulnerable clients,” Zielinski says.
And of course, more available housing is always a goal for Zielinski.
“The solution to homelessness is housing,” she says.
Getting more people who are willing to rent to the homeless population would be easier if the CoC had more flexible money available through donations from local stakeholders including local business leaders, she says.
“Having a landlord mitigation fund protects the landlord for lost rent or damages,” Zielinski says. “Diversion and prevention funds also help people to stave off homelessness in the first place.”
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
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