By Sam Nickels, exec. director, OCP

For this article, I gleaned data from a couple of our grant proposals. Although data is considered boring by some, I love data and I love how it helps us to measure the effectiveness of our work at OCP. The info below is both quantitative and qualitative. 

Here we go…. 

Numbers served

  • In 2020 we estimate we served about 700 unduplicated individuals. While we carefully document the number of folks served in our housing, case management, and employment programs, the number of people we serve meals to or let in for the bathrooms is difficult to measure due to the open nature of our services system (remember, “We Welcome Everyone in the World”). 
  • Our three core programs are feeding people, case management, and housing people who are chronically homeless. During the pandemic our service of hot meals soared from 17,000 in 2019 to over 23,100 in 2020. Our case management soared also, more than doubling: in 2020, we provided over 5,100 case management services. This included 102 “primary outcomes,” which are long-term benefits we obtained for and with clients, such as securing health insurance like Medicaid, employment, disability income, and permanent housing. Finally, in collaboration with other agencies, we moved 47 individuals from homelessness to permanent housing situations. While not everyone has maintained their housing, we work hard to make that happen with our new “supportive housing case management” services, which are provided on-site at people’s apartments and by phone to help them work through issues that are potentially leading to eviction for them. 
  • OCP continues its supportive employment programs, including the “Kitchen Industries” started in 2015. More recently we’ve added individuals who work in gardens, maintenance, and driving. This trauma-informed employment program currently employs 4 people in part-time positions that average 20 hours/week. Three years ago OCP paid $8.50/hr. We currently pay $12/hr and have a goal of increasing hourly worker pay to $15/hr. In addition to feeding the population of people experiencing homelessness, our chef crew continues our tradition of “Friday Lunch Restaurant,” which continues to thrive on a carry-out basis. Employing formerly homeless individuals, Kitchen Industries staff come from a rich diversity of racial/ethnic backgrounds. You can see this in our changing menu. For example, OCP’s newest hire leads Monday lunch preparation, incorporating his Afro-Puerto Rican foodways.

Our case management team provides a wealth of services. I will honor them here by listing a few: collecting medical records for disability applications (an especially hard task for people with cognitive-related disabilities), help obtaining DMV and other ID’s, applications at DSS for SNAP and Medicaid, Medicaid and ACA annual renewal forms and assistance with online processes on computers, supportive listening for those in need of a kind ear, crisis management for those in conflict with others or who are severely stressed or experiencing high levels of anxiety, food and tents and sleeping bags and coats for those living outside, assigning lockers to those in need, packing up and storing locker contents for those who have gone to jail, referrals for mental health services at the CSB or telepsych services at Suitcase Clinic or Strength in Peers (SIP), and substance use services through SIP programs, visiting home-bound community members, transporting folks to the hospital and specialists for appointments, explaining and enforcing OCP COVID protocols, helping people access our computer to print out paystubs or apply for employment, handing out mail to the 80 or so folks who use OCP’s address for their mail, signing people up for housing programs via the housing authority, advocating for those most vulnerable at the “Built for Zero” CoC meetings of agencies that make decisions about placement of people into housing like Commerce Village and Lineweaver, calling the hospital to discuss a case with their case managers, calling shelters to try to get someone a bed, taking folks to a new apartment to move in, taking folks to Mercy House Thrift store for furniture for a new apartment, moving people’s things out when they get evicted, visiting them before they get evicted to argue with them vociferously on behavioral changes needed if they want to stay in their apartment and not lose their voucher, getting a volunteer in to repair the dryer belt that broke in the laundry room, and…. That’s enough for now. You get the idea. 

Demographics, Equity and Diversity Data

Board makeup: 21%  Black, 79%  White

Management staff makeup: 14%  Black, 14%  Hispanic or Latino, 58%  White, 14%  Multiracial (individuals that identify as two or more races)

Age groups of Community Members 

2%  0-5 (ages)
2%  6-11
2%  12-15
4%  16-24
29%  25-44
53%  45-64
8%  65+

40%  Female
47%  Male
13%  Not Tracked by Organization

Ethnicity of Community Members 
4%  Asian
19%  Black
17%  Hispanic/Latino
55%  White
4%  Multiracial (Individuals that identify as two or more races)
1%  Not Tracked

A story of struggle and success, of ups and downs

I’d like to share one story of many I could share. Gerry (not her real name) has accessed a spectrum of OCP services over 13 years, which makes her a great example to share. Gerry was homeless for 12 years and came to OCP every day for food, to shower before work, and to store her things in a locker. She’s worked at a clothing store part time for the last 7 years, but never had enough money for housing due to garnished wages for child support. OCP assisted Gerry with getting food stamps and Medicaid, and eventually she was able to get disability income due to mental health challenges. With income in place, our housing placement program could help her. We went through the detailed paperwork to apply for a voucher, argued her case to the top of the Continuum of Care’s voucher placement list, and helped her complete the final paperwork once she got the voucher. 

Then we located a woman who wanted to rent a room in her house, we negotiated the lease, and we used monies from our “Housing Assistance Fund” to pay her first month’s rent, after which Mercy House could kick in Rapid Rehousing funds until her voucher came through. At first her landlord was very frustrated that she was not getting voucher payments from the government, but our housing specialist helped her and HRHA figure out that the payments were going to a different account from the one the landlord thought they were going to, so the payments were all there. HRHA also cut her voucher assistance due to her income, but that happened right when her employer started cutting everyone’s hours down to 1-day a week. OCP was able to help one month with her rent, and get the issue straightened out at HRHA so her voucher payment was increased again, and we kept the landlord updated and talked with Gerry constantly to reduce her stress and anxiety (she was threatening to give up and leave and go back to living on the streets). 

Now a few months down the road, she is quite happy, she loves her place, and her payments are worked out and regular, which the landlord appreciates. Thanks to the folks in our housing program, OCP was able to place Gerry into housing and prevent her from losing her apartment during the critical first few months of transition.

Is OCP a shelter? 

Yes. But not an overnight shelter. We are a day shelter only. In fact, we are the only day shelter for people staying at the night shelter in Harrisonburg (Open Doors and Salvation Army both close at about 7am daily). We also partner with Open Doors on extremely cold weather days (below freezing) to staff and provide food to shelter residents during the day at Open Doors location.

Does OCP run affordable housing units? 

Indirectly, yes. We partner with two other nonprofits to place and provide case management for about 20 individuals in 4 different houses in the NE and NW sections of town, close to OCP. Rents range from $0 to $400/month (includes utilities) so we place people in these houses who are very low income or struggle with financial management and need supportive housing. Options we are considering to expand this work in the coming years include purchasing and/or building/expanding housing for our community members. OCP has recently begun a pilot program to manage a property for a landlord owner, in exchange for the right to place people into that housing. This is another potential model that we will use to find housing for difficult to place individuals, especially those with criminal records or no income, or histories of mental health conditions. 

How does OCP evaluate and measure impact? 

Excellent question. We survey our community members throughout the year to determine number of unduplicated persons served; we track meals served per day; we use an “outcome tracker” to track primary (long-term/permanent) and secondary (short-term) outcomes through the case management program; we track housing placements and loss-of-housing data for our housing program. We are currently revamping our equity data collection through all the above programs, to better assess our levels of diversity and equity.

How do you know you are serving low-income people? 

We don’t turn anyone away, and we have no screening process for people coming in for food or other basic services. But we do intakes on the majority of people passing through OCP because they are seeking assistance with housing, disability income, food stamps, and other benefits. Through the intake and benefits-application processes, we have a firm grasp of what our typical income average and range is. We define low- to moderate-income two ways: homeless, and AMI. Typically, our clients are less than 30% of AMI. Probably 95% of people we serve fall into this category.