by Carol Davies, COAT Program Director
COAT, otherwise known as Community Outreach Assistance Team, began a couple of years ago as a conversation among CHC board members wanting to help people without housing while still searching for land for the village. The idea of going out to locations where we could find them and see if we could help with anything was brought up. Shortly thereafter, we were approached by Melissa Egan from Community Services Consortium, who asked us if we’d consider doing street outreach in Albany if CSC provided grant money to start a program. We agreed, and COAT was born.
We started out by handing out food and supplies. It quickly became apparent that we needed to do more if we were to truly help people out of homelessness. We also realized that we needed to start recording statistical information so we could measure the effectiveness of our program.
COAT now has three paid employees, including myself as Outreach Director. Heather was hired a few months after starting the program. She has her Associates Degree in Human Services and Family Development. Because she was so good at connecting with the people we were serving, we sent her to CHANCE to become a certified Peer Support Specialist in addiction. A few months later Michael showed up at our storeroom looking to volunteer at CHANCE. We told him who we were and he decided he’d like to volunteer with us. He impressed us so much, we decided to hire him later that year. We sent him to class to become certified as a Peer Support Specialist in addiction also.
Earlier in 2023, we received a grant that paid for Heather and Michael to become certified in Peer Support – mental health. In addition, they’ve taken numerous other trainings, from First Aid Mental Health to De-escalation, and they’re training in Harm Reduction with Shirley Byrd from Family Assistance and Resource Center Group in Sweet Home.
We have approximately 10 volunteers to help with outreach, although that number fluctuates. We also have employees from CHANCE, Linn County Alcohol and Drug, and Linn County Mental Health who go out with us on a regular basis.
Most people we see have either no or very limited knowledge of the services available to them. We facilitate access and referral to housing supports, and we offer intensive case management services to elderly and disabled individuals. These members of our community represent over 50% of Albany’s unhoused population and are among our most vulnerable. They need a powerful advocate like COAT to help them successfully navigate through the systems necessary to achieve their goals.
We’ve successfully housed 10 households this year, representing 20 individuals. Last year we housed 8 households, also representing 20 individuals. What sets us apart from the other service organizations in Linn County are our continuing case management services after placement. Oftentimes, people who have been unhoused find it difficult to manage cleaning, cooking, or budgeting on their own. We assist them by teaching them these skills, and setting up services when necessary so they can remain successfully placed.
It’s important to note that although we’re part of Creating Housing Coalition, we do our own fundraising and don’t use any of their funds. Our funding comes from grants, including local, state and federal sources, as well as private foundations. Because there’s a lot of competition for a very limited amount of funding, it’s always a struggle to keep our program running. We will gratefully accept private donations!
To volunteer for outreach or make a donation to COAT go to https://creatinghousing.org/coat/.