Chattanooga’s local initiative to end chronic veteran’s homelessness has been selected to participate in a national campaign called Zero: 2016. Campaign organizer, Community Solutions, said it would work closely with the Chattanooga community to end chronic veteran homelessness by the end of 2016. Mayor Andy Berke announced the collaboration this morning during a Veteran’s Day Program at Washington Alternative School.
"We must take care of the men and women who have fought so courageously for our freedom,” said Mayor Berke. “Through strong collaboration between our task force and various community partners, such as the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, Chattanooga Housing Authority, and our local Veterans Affairs Medical Center, we will utilize Community Solutions as a resource to ensure there will no longer be veterans living on the streets of Chattanooga.”
After a competitive application process, Chattanooga was selected for Zero: 2016 along with 68 other U.S. communities. Zero: 2016 is a follow up to Community Solutions’ 100,000 Homes Campaign, which resulted in the housing of 105,000 chronically homeless Americans in less than four years.
The 69 communities selected for Zero: 2016 represent 31 different states and the District of Columbia. Among them are 50 communities who also participated in the 100,000 Homes Campaign and 19 new communities. Combined, the group represents the joint, public commitment of 234 housing authorities, local government entities, non-profit organizations, and community agencies.
Mayor Berke publicly pledged to end chronic veteran homelessness in Chattanooga on April 21, during his first State of the City address. The next day, the mayor signed an executive order establishing a community task force to eradicate chronic veteran homelessness. The task force is co-chaired by City Council Chairman Chip Henderson and Donna Maddox, executive director of Johnson Mental Health.
From Oct. 13-15, the city of Chattanooga partnered with local agencies and community members to register and survey Chattanooga’s homeless veterans in an event called Registry Week. The canvassing effort surveyed 91 individuals living on the streets of Chattanooga; 15 of those individuals were identified as veterans.
Building upon the findings of October’s Registry Week, Zero: 2016 will launch in Chattanooga in January of 2015 by participating in Chattanooga’s annual “Point-In-Time Count,” an event that aims to register and survey local homeless individuals in one night.
What should I eat to make sure my baby is born healthy? If my baby has a fever, what medicine can they have? Why should I read to my infant? How do I take care of a daughter with asthma?
These are questions new parents ask themselves. It’s difficult to find answers or even know where to look. They are just trying to keep up with school or pick up extra shifts at work while getting ready to take on one of life’s biggest challenges: being a parent.
Parenting is difficult for everyone. I know how much my wife and I work each day to make the best choices for our daughters. We are lucky to have people in our life for advice but many young families don’t have anyone to turn to when things go wrong.
And when things go wrong, they can go really wrong. Our Infant Mortality Rate in Hamilton County is devastating. According to 2010 statistics, we are over 60% higher than the national average. At 9.7 per 1000 births, we actually have a higher Infant Mortality Rate than many countries, including Russia, Lebanon, Serbia, Ukraine...and the list goes on.
On top of that, approximately 1,000 out of the 4,000 babies born in Hamilton County every year are at risk to not be ready for school. Single parents, low educational attainment by a parent, teen pregnancy -- these factors often result in a struggling family. Chattanooga has sub-regions where over 75% of births are to a single mother, over half are born into poverty, and almost 20% are not born at a healthy weight.
We must do better than this.
While Chattanooga boasts a number of agencies teaching parenting and developmental skills, the need is still great. That’s why the City is partnering with area nonprofits and the medical community to institute a Baby University. Through this initiative, we will provide parents the knowledge they need to keep their newborn healthy and happy, prepare expectant mothers and fathers to be a child’s first teacher, and ensure our young people grow into productive adults.
Earlier this week, I met with new moms and elementary school teachers to hear their everyday challenges. New mom Sarah talked about how hard it is for her to discipline her child because she suffered from abuse when she was young. Another mom admitted her concern when I asked what she doing to prepare her son for kindergarten, saying “you want to help them. You have a beautiful baby and you know they are depending on you, but you just don’t always know what to do.”
I listened as teachers explained the effects this lack of knowledge has once the child gets to school. One teacher from Hardy said a lot of parents think Kindergarten is playtime, but the standards have changed and kids need to come to pre-k with basic language and learning skills.
The stories from these educators and moms bears out what we know from research. Success for students starts long before they enter school, with over 80% of brain development occurring between birth and three years of age. We also know an investment in early childhood learning pays for itself down the road through lower incarceration rates, better skilled workforce, and less strain on our healthcare system.
These discussions only reinforced my commitment to support Chattanooga’s children from the cradle to career. Over the coming days, city leaders including Coach Lurone Jennings of Youth & Family Development will work with an Advisory Committee to determine next steps for Baby University. Drawing from successful programs in other cities, we will utilize volunteers and leverage private investment to ensure a critical focus on medical well-being and child development.
By providing the skills and resources to be an educator in the home, the City will invest in our parents and newborns. Not only will this investment improve lives today, it will provide dividends to Chattanooga for decades to come.
Yesterday, I met a little boy named Andrew who was born with no hands or feet. He was, however, born with an incredible and creative dad. Andrew’s dad makes prosthetics for his two year old on a three dimensional printer at Chattanooga’s Public Library. Andrew outgrows prosthetics so quickly that purchasing specialty products for him would be far too expensive. This way, Andrews dad can design and create simple prosthetics to help Andrew color and eat easier. There is a lot of buzz around the country about the “maker movement” but Andrew and Ezra show the power of giving real everyday people access to technology to empower them to change their lives.
Alongside, Andrew I met lots of other kids who were at the Library from our Youth & Family Development (YFD) Centers who were learning from other Chattanooga makers. There was a sandbox showcasing open-source topography that, with the touch of a hand, manipulates the ebb and flow of a virtual river. The sandbox was built in partnerships with area high schools and can now be used to teach about flooding. Kids learning about new technology from the people who made it is invaluable to the long term success of our community.
On June 18, Chattanooga joined The White House and cities across the country in an effort to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and the next generation of manufacturing in the 21st Century economy. Here at home, kids from multiple Youth & Family Development Centers participated in innovative and interactive activities, showcased by “makers” from across the city. And today’s event was just a precursor. Mark your calendar for an all-day Chattanooga Maker Faire on October 11, at time for people to show what they are making and share what they are learning. Thanks to the Library and all our partners for making our Maker Day a tremendous success.
In the words of just one 9 year old at today’s Making celebration – “This is a magical place.”
Personally, I couldn’t agree more.
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© 2012 Andy Berke. All Rights Reserved.
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