Flexible funding, big thinking help curb homelessness
Janet came to the CARITAS Shelter last summer when she found herself, in her mid-50s, homeless for the first time. She had a steady job, but not enough money saved up for a security deposit, so she had nowhere to go.
Recent local and national policy shifts have resulted in homeless services focusing on our most vulnerable residents first. This strategy helps triage limited housing resources for those who need them most — but it also means that residents like Janet, with relatively low barriers to stable housing, do not receive resources as quickly.
One donor couple was paying attention to the trend. They reached out to the Community Foundation to ask about the status of our region’s shelter system after reading an article in the newspaper. The Community Foundation connected them with Homeward to learn more. From that conversation, they felt they could help people like Janet by seeding a new funding program.
A New Lease on Life
Homeward’s New Lease on Life Fund helps people who fall into the service gap. Local shelters can access flexible funding to help clients who only need a “light touch” to regain housing stability. Clients contribute a portion of their new housing costs, and this fund matches the rest.
“Before this fund was available, my first conversation with new clients was, ‘How are you going to do this without help?’” said Allie Cornell, the Senior Shelter Program Clinician with CARITAS. “Now, we have this bit of wiggle room. Because the funds are ‘first-come, first-served,’ clients know that the faster they can put in their portion, the faster I can help, which has increased motivation.”
A Plan for the Future
Beyond financial assistance, clients also receive coaching to build a housing plan. With the help of a case manager, clients evaluate their budget and assess what realistic housing options exist for them.
“It can be really hard to problem-solve when you’re under great stress or in crisis,” said Kelly King Horne, Executive Director of Homeward. “You can’t think straight if you’re worried about where you’re going to sleep. Case managers are trained to help people through that crisis, to tap into their own personal resources and make a plan for stability.”
In Janet’s situation, her case manager identified another client as a potential roommate: a woman in a similar situation who could split the cost. Together, the pair put in $850 towards their initial housing costs, which the New Lease on Life Fund matched with $500 to cover the rest. The women moved out of shelter and into a two-bedroom house — freeing up shelter beds for new clients in the process.
“We know we don’t have enough emergency shelter beds in our community to meet the need,” King Horne said. “One cost-effective way to expand our capacity to address homelessness is to help people exit to permanent housing more quickly. If someone can exit to stability, then the shelters can serve the next household in crisis.”
Room for Creativity
Clients and case managers can use these funds in more creative ways, too. This includes purchasing bus tickets to reunite with out-of-state family or renting U-Hauls to transport belongings. From the fund’s launch date in August through the end of 2018, this program has helped 58 people exit the shelter system into permanent housing.
How You Can Help
To learn more about the New Lease on Life Fund and how you can contribute, contact Homeward Community Engagement Manager Michael Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 343-2045 ext. 22.