Robert L. Baisden arrived in Jacksonville from Iowa about three years ago and has been homeless intermittently since.
As part of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, he once parachuted into nearby Camp Blanding and had fond memories of a side trip into the city. He thought this could be a warm place to resettle after a divorce and make some money.
Things have not worked out like he hoped. He has spent time on the streets, in shelters and, when he had work, motels.
Life has been looking up since May, when the 100 Homes Jacksonville initiative paid the way for him to move into an Arlington apartment. He now spends much of his time looking for a steady job to handle the rent after that three-month funding runs out.
“I don’t know where I’d be,” he said. “I can’t really thank those people enough. … Now, if I can just keep it.”
Baisden is one of 761 homeless people housed as part of 100 Homes Jacksonville, the local branch of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national movement coordinated by New York-based nonprofit Community Solutions.
About 230 communities worked together to find and house 100,000 of their most vulnerable, chronically homeless neighbors by July 31. Through Tuesday, the nationwide total was 101,628.
The city joined the campaign in November 2011 and, piloted by a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, far outran the initial 100-home goal. The city became a member of the campaign’s elite “2.5% Club,” a group of communities that are on track to end chronic homelessness outright within three years.
“It has been an amazing collaborative effort to exceed our original goal,” said Dawn Gilman, chief executive officer of the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Northeast Florida. “This moves our community to the goal of ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2016.”
The results have been “remarkable,” said Shannon Nazworth, executive director of Ability Housing of Northeast Florida.
“This community initiative has demonstrated that collectively we can significantly reduce the number of persons experiencing homelessness in Jacksonville. We are all very proud to have been part of the success,” she said.
The participating communities identified homeless people by name and built a file on each of their housing needs. They prioritized the most vulnerable — people with serious health conditions — and the chronically homeless to get the first permanent housing available, according to a news release issued by the campaign. Long-term employment, drug treatment, health-care and mental-health needs were addressed only after stable housing was secured.
If a client fails to find a job within the initial three months of housing, funds are available to extend rent payments on a case-by-case basis, said Marti Johnson, program director for the Emergency Coalition.
Nationwide, about 30,000 veterans were housed as part of the initiative.
In Jacksonville, 356 of the 761 people housed were veterans, including Baisden. He said he wants to be an advocate for the homeless, such as creating a newspaper for them and representing them on boards of agencies that serve the homeless.
“I’m feeling strongly that we need a voice,” he said.
In January, Community Solutions will launch Zero: 2016, a national effort to build on the success of the 100 Homes Campaign by helping communities bring their chronic and veteran homeless populations all the way to zero.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109