City spurs effort to match assistance to varied needs of homeless families
Gregory Wright needed a place to live, but the single father knew the prospects of finding one in Spokane are practically zilch – none of the homeless programs in the city serves single men with children.
Still, the 50-year-old took his chances by going to the Salvation Army, where the new Homeless Families Coordinated Assessment program is headquartered. “I refused to leave until they helped me,” Wright said.
Donor funds paid for the man and his 2-year-old son to stay in a motel for three days. The two then went to a shelter, and within a few days moved into a house where they received rental assistance for a month. “Finally, I got stabilized,” Wright said.
By the end of February, he found a job and a permanent home.
“That’s what this program is supposed to do,” said Sheila Morley, a program coordinator for the city of Spokane’s Community, Housing and Human Services. “It’s intended to provide a quick turnaround.”
The Homeless Families Coordinated Assessment is led by the city, funded by state and federal money and run by the Salvation Army. The focus is on families with children, including single parents, grandparents or guardians. The mission is to identify homeless families’ needs and get them on their feet within 30 days.
The conversation to start the program began about four years ago among the homeless shelters. The coordinated entry system for all homeless families – as well as those about to be homeless – became a reality in October 2012, in part because having a system in place is now a requirement to receive federal funding. The program costs about $270,000 annually.
“It’s about making a shift in how things are happening,” Morley said. “The problem was people would call and say: ‘I’m homeless, can I get on a list?’And they would go into the first place that opened up. Often that wasn’t where they needed to be.”
She added, “This way they are assessed immediately, and put on the track they need to be, which saves the system money.”
The city and other local social service agencies chose the Salvation Army to provide intake and assessment services.
Families who arrive at the Salvation Army are assessed by counselors who determine which type of help is most appropriate. The four pathways are:
• Diversion. A family already has a safe place to stay, such as a family member or friend’s home, but need a third party to mediate any problems that might be triggering the primary resident to ask the family to move out.
A majority of families who have entered the program have been helped this way, said Steven LaPointe, program coordinator at the Salvation Army.
• Prevention. If families are facing eviction, the program can provide financial assistance.
• Rapid rehousing. Finding a place for homeless families to live and providing financial assistance for 30 days or less so a family can get into permanent housing.
• Temporary housing. Emergency shelter and transitional housing.
Families must meet the income requirement in order to receive help – a maximum of $18,850 for a family of four, $15,102 for a family of two.
Nearly a dozen other agencies support the program, including Catholic Charities’ St. Margaret’s Shelter; SNAP; Volunteers of America’s Alexandria House and Aston-Bleck apartments; Transitions’ Transitional Living Center and the YWCA Domestic Violence Shelter.
“The idea is to find the most effective intervention for them at the moment,” LaPointe said.
The response to the program since October has been greater than anticipated, Morley said. More than 899 families have been screened by the Homeless Families Coordinated Assessment; in addition to those helped through diversion, 180 families have been placed in temporary housing, 206 have been helped through rapid re-housing and 76 through prevention.
Additionally, much data has been collected to determine where there are gaps. Already, couples with no children, households with fathers and single-father households are groups that have been identified as needing emergency crisis shelter options.
While the program currently focuses on families with children, Morley said, by the end of 2014 “we will have a system in place for individuals.”
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