Homeless but not hopeless at Bradenton's Turning Points

February 3, 2013 

In turning a page in its history, the Community Coalition on Homelessness now bears a new name, Turning Points, a more definitive and inspirational description of the private, nonprofit's mission. Headquartered in the Bill Galvano One Stop Center in Bradenton, the organization helps down-and-out people out on the streets. Most importantly, Turning Points helps some find a place to live and build a new life.

"Turning Points" does indeed express the goal of the organization. With a new heart-shaped logo that also states, "Where Compassion Takes Action," Turning Points is taking its commitment to Manatee County's homeless to another level. The organization provides a variety of essential services to the homeless, expanding two key health programs over the past six months.

Last July, resident physicians at Manatee Memorial Hospital joined fourth-year medical students from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine at the One Stop Clinic, providing free primary care services. LECOM has been partnering with the homeless coalition since 2009. All this is a boon to the community, sparing the expense of costly emergency room care from being forced onto hospitals and eventually passed down to patients with health insurance.

With additional medical personnel, Turning Points has been able to expand clinic hours. Most significantly, though, the organization is in the midst of enlarging the facility from three to eight exam rooms, with construction scheduled to start in March. Donations would be most welcome, with naming rights up for grabs for big donors.

The other vital health program is dental care, which the organization also debuted in 2009. Thanks to volunteer dentists and hygienists from the community, the One Stop Clinic treats hundreds of patients a year and keeps them healthier and out of hospitals.

LECOM's new dental college, which opened last July, puts student to work treating low-income patients, and the school is providing free dentures to 30 patient referrals from Turning Points. The patients were examined in January with the dentures expected to be fitted in March.

The organization's other two programs directly address homelessness and turning points.

The Open Door Day Resource Center holds a computer center where clients can work with staff from the Suncoast Workforce Board and Goodwill on job searches, resume writing and interviewing skills, among other employment assistance services.

The center also provides clean clothing and shoes, a laundry and haircuts, hot showers and restrooms, and emergency assistance for short-term housing.

The Transitional Development Program offers a rental assistance program for people at risk of falling into homelessness or lifting the homeless out of that predicament. Case managers ensure clients meet eligibility requirements, such as realistic budgeting and proof of sustainability. This puts hundreds of children and adults back into homes each year.

Communities pay a high cost for homelessness with expensive medical treatment, incarceration and emergency shelter, and studies show the cost of transitional or permanent housing is cheaper and saves taxpayers money.

In citing a number of cost studies, the National Alliance to End Homelessness concludes: "While seemingly counterintuitive, these examples clearly demonstrate that a housing-based approach to homelessness is not only more cost-effective than a shelter-based approach, but more effective in the long term. By focusing our resources on ending homelessness, we can make real progress toward eradicating the social problem while helping the country's most vulnerable residents."

The national alliance notes that fewer than 16 percent of people out on the streets are considered "chronically homeless," which should put to rest the misguided notion that there is little hope of solving this daunting issue. Plus, homeless population figures dispel the myth that men holding backpacks and sitting on park benches constitute the majority.

In an interview with the Herald's Vin Mannix about the homeless coalition's name change, Turning Points Executive Director Adele Erozer pointed out that eight years ago 95 percent of the center's clients were men. But today, an equal number of women seek assistance -- many with children.

By placing hundreds of people a year in homes and helping a large number secure jobs, Turning Points is indeed living up to its new name.

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