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Nampa Salvation Army’s rapid rehousing program houses 20 families since fall launch

Julieanna Gallegos shows her daughter, Elinna, 1, what she is prepating for dinner on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Nampa. (Chris Bronson / Idaho Press-Tribune)
Julieanna Gallegos shows her daughter, Elinna, 1, what she is prepating for dinner on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Nampa. (Chris Bronson / Idaho Press-Tribune)
By Erin Bamer Idaho Press-Tribune

NAMPA — After the loss of her job and apartment, Brittany Davis couldn’t afford stable housing for herself and two boys. They stayed with friends and family, and in some situations Davis felt were dangerous for her 6- and 8-year-old sons, before landing at the Valley Women and Children’s Shelter in Nampa.

“I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere,” Davis said.

But, a few months later, her life is back on track. She and her sons live in a two-bedroom apartment, and she has a job at a dry cleaning business. The change is due in large part to a rapid rehousing program started by the Salvation Army Nampa Corps, which has housed 20 families since it launched last fall.

Rapid rehousing is a national trend following the shift of federal funding to supporting permanent methods of treating homelessness. The programs settle homeless families into long-term housing and helps them pay rent as they search for work and other ways to be self-sufficient after graduating from the program.

At the Salvation Army, participants are placed in permanent housing typically within 30 to 90 days of being accepted into the program. For the first two months, the Salvation Army pays full rent, and then the participants steadily start contributing in 10 percent increments until they’re paying in full by the end of the year.

“This was a big deal,” said Davis, who has a baby on the way. “They really blessed us.”

How it started

The Salvation Army Nampa Corps was established in 1905 and opened a family shelter in 2002 — the only Treasure Valley shelter that took in mothers, fathers and children of any age, according to spokeswoman Margie Potter.

The shelter included 14 overnight emergency rooms, which typically housed about 50 people. Each month it provided roughly 100 loads of laundry, 150 showers, 3,000 meals, 350 pieces of clothing, 400 hygiene kits and 1,000 baby items.

But last fall, the Salvation Army transitioned its resources from the shelter to its rapid rehousing program. Families are no longer allowed to stay overnight at the shelter, but they can still access resources such as laundry, showers and meals. The Salvation Army also still offers an overnight winter shelter from December to March.

The change occurred due to a shift in federal funding, said Maj. Mike Halverson with the Salvation Army. Federal funding that once supported transitional housing, such as shelters, shifted to support rapid rehousing efforts. In turn, the Salvation Army lost the funding required to keep their shelter open for overnight visitors.

To maintain federal support, the Salvation Army had to shift its program to focus on rapid rehousing. Halverson said they receive about $109,000 in federal dollars for the program, and were recently awarded $40,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding from the city of Nampa.

These two sources largely fund the rapid rehousing program, Potter said, which has an annual budget of about $151,000. In comparison, Halverson said the shelter had an average annual budget of about $454,000 over the last four years.

The results

Since launching the rapid rehousing program in the fall, 20 families have participated, and two of those families have graduated and are self-sufficient. Program coordinator Nancy Tuttle said 13 families who sought shelter through the Salvation Army are participating.

Families must meet a high bar for need in order to qualify for support. Even living out of a hotel room is enough to disqualify a family. Several of the Salvation Army’s participants were living in shelters when they applied for the program, while others were living out of their cars.

Davis was living in a shelter. While a more traditional and still necessary setting for aiding the homeless, Davis said living in a shelter was a stressful situation for her and her sons. The atmosphere was depressing, she said.

That switched after Davis was accepted into the Salvation Army’s rapid rehousing program. She takes a life skills class with other families in the program and said she sees a strong drive in them to make things better for their families.

Because of the program, several homeless families who were previously living apart have been reunited. Four sets of mothers and fathers were reunited, and five families were reunited with their children, case manager Vera Beltran said.

It is especially important for families to maintain a sense of normalcy for their children. With rapid rehousing, a lot of times the children don’t notice anything different from living in a normal home and don’t associate their situation with homelessness, like they would if they lived in a shelter.

“For many kids, it’s the first time they’ve had their own rooms,” Halverson said.

For the Gallegos family, who are in their fourth month of the program, father Aaron Gallegos said his four children are much happier now that they have a three-bedroom apartment to call home, instead of a shelter. Mother Julieanna Gallegos said her youngest daughter, Elinna, loves playing in their new living room because it’s one of the largest open spaces she’s been free to play in since she was born.

The family was homeless for several months last year and was living in a shelter when they enrolled in the Salvation Army’s program. They were placed in their new home about three months later, Aaron Gallegos said.

Davis had her eye on an apartment while she was living at the Valley Women and Children’s Shelter. Her application was denied, but through the rapid rehousing program, she appealed and was accepted.

From the date they enroll in the rapid rehousing program, it typically takes families 30-90 days to secure permanent housing, during which time they remain homeless. For Davis, it took less than two months.

Davis’ apartment has two bedrooms. Her two sons share one room and she and her new infant will share the other when he is born. Working with her landlord, she said she and Salvation Army staff were able to negotiate her rent price down from about $800 a month to $645.

Tuttle said many families end up finding a home that costs about $100 over their preferred rent. A family searching for a two-bedroom unit typically looks to spend no more than $600 a month, but usually end up with rent between $750 to $800. For larger families, a three-bedroom unit or larger at $800 a month is ideal, but often rents are between $900 and $1,200.

“They stress. They really do stress,” Tuttle said.

The Salvation Army’s program includes classes, case management and regular inspections to make sure families stay on track and secure sufficient income to pay rent once they’re done with the program. Of the 20 families, 11 have increased their income since enrolling. Two families have even started their own business.

The Gallegos family is one of them. Aaron Gallegos started his business, We Got This Landscaping, about three weeks ago when he couldn’t find a job that was a good fit. Julieanna Gallegos joined him soon after to help carry some of the responsibilities.

“We got tired of making other people rich,” he said.

Though the business is still new, Aaron Gallegos said he is hopeful that by the end of their year in the rapid rehousing program, they will have enough income to afford their apartment, which is about $775 per month.

Davis, in her fourth month of the program, said she’s confident she’ll have sufficient income and enough savings by the end of the year to pay rent by herself.

A national trend

Rapid rehousing is a growing national trend, and one that Idaho has been slow to pick up on, according to Wyatt Schroeder, executive director of CATCH, Inc. (Charitable Assistance to Communities Homeless), which helps homeless families in Ada and Canyon counties.

Spurred by the success of a pilot program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2008, the popularity of rapid rehousing grew nationwide. A study from HUD on the first two years of the program found that almost 85 percent of participants remained in permanent housing, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Other studies found similar results, showing that the majority of participants in rapid rehousing programs remained in their homes and did not return to a shelter, with success rates between 70-90 percent. Now, rapid rehousing programs are found in almost every state.

Idaho is included in that list, but the presence of rapid rehousing is smaller than in neighboring states. CATCH was founded as a rapid rehousing provider in 2006, before rapid rehousing efforts gained national support, and expanded into Canyon County in 2009, Schroeder said. Since it was established, he said they have housed about 500 families.

Schroeder said a typical family participates in the CATCH program for just under five months. While he said shelters are still an important service, rapid rehousing is more successful because it prioritizes stable housing.

More traditional methods of treating homelessness prevent families from finding permanent homes because the individuals first have to deal with their other limitations, such as income or addiction. In a way, he said this can create a mindset that if you are dealing with homelessness, you don’t deserve stable housing until you address your other issues.

“The old models don’t believe in clients enough,” Schroeder said.

Rapid rehousing is the opposite of that. Schroeder said they see housing as a basic right and place individuals and families in housing first before addressing other problems that might lead families back to a shelter.

But rapid rehousing isn’t flawless. Some have criticized the efforts, saying that it sets participants up to fail by placing them in housing before they’ve secured a steady income to meet their rent, leading them into debt and potentially back into homelessness. In a Washington Post report from last year, Washington, D.C., lawyer Matt Tipping said he believes the success rate is closer to 40-50 percent.

Schroeder said if a rapid rehousing program doesn’t have a success rate of at least 75 percent, then the organization in charge isn’t doing it right. One misconception about rapid rehousing programs is that they only addresses housing, but Schroeder said many provide case management and social workers who help participants become self-sufficient. CATCH staff visit with families three months after they’ve graduated the program to make sure they’re doing OK.

CATCH houses about 60 families a year on average, Schroeder said. Despite the success of the organization’s rapid rehousing efforts, he said there are no other agencies besides CATCH in the Treasure Valley that exclusively focus on rapid rehousing. Other organizations like the Salvation Army offer rapid rehousing programs, but it isn’t their main purpose.

Schroeder said there are several reasons Idaho has been slow to support rapid rehousing. Idaho, he said, prefers to be independent from the federal government, so it is unlikely the state would be quick to follow national trends. The high demand for affordable housing also makes it more expensive to house low-income families.

CATCH gets no state funding, and Schroeder said the only funding they get from Nampa or Caldwell is from the Community Development Block Grant. He said government funding makes up about a third of their annual budget — typically $1 million — most of which comes from the federal level.

The Salvation Army and CATCH recently applied for CDBG funding approved through the Nampa City Council. City Council granted both organizations requests in full, with $40,000 going to the Salvation Army and $20,000 going to CATCH.

Nampa City Council member Darl Bruner acknowledged the importance of rapid rehousing programs, but asked if the organizations could collaborate and share resources so the city could dedicate more of the funding to CATCH because it focuses solely on rapid rehousing. Halverson said they do work with CATCH, but even if each organization that offers rapid rehousing received the full amount of funding they applied for, there would still be families left on a waiting list.

“We are providing similar services, but if you ask me, there’s not enough of those services to provide housing for the families that need it,” Halverson said.

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