Home Again:
Preventing Homelessness 
in Summit County Part Two – 2010-08-21

By: Katie Sobiech

Home Again is helping re-build our community, after the loss of jobs, homes, apartments and ways of living many were used to, due to the economy.

“The idea behind this new program came about because of the economy. There were a lot of people winding up homeless or on the verge of homelessness because of losing their jobs due to layoffs and not being able to pay their rent,” Sue Pierson, Director of Info Line Inc. said.

As a means of prevention, Home Again began in Summit County in December of 2009.

“This gives us a new way of dealing with people who are finding themselves homeless and getting them stabilized quickly, before they go into the emergency shelter system and everything kind of falls apart,” Pierson continued.

Info Line Inc., H.M. Life Opportunity Services, The Salvation Army and others are working together to make such a program possible.

“We (H.M. Life Opportunity Services) have a housing locator who helps clients who are in need of finding affordable housing in the area that they’re interested in. Our locator also goes out and does a habitability inspection to make sure we’re housing people in places that are live-able,” Melissa Massey-Flinn, Program Director of H.M. Life Opportunity Services, said.

“In some cases they’ve been able to get people into housing from start to finish in 11 days,” Pierson said, “Getting them out of a shelter, out of a bad situation and stable again.”

Who it’s For

Not just anyone can enter this program, there are requirements, including:

  • Individual/family must live in Summit County
  • Household income must be at or below 50% of Area Median Income
  • Must lack financial resources and support networks
  • Have sufficient income to sustain housing after receiving assistance
  • There must be moderate barriers to obtaining market housing.

Also, they must meet at least one of the following:

  • Individual/family is sleeping in an emergency shelter
  • Sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation (cars, parks, abandoned buildings)
  • Graduating from, or timing out of a transitional housing program
  • Staying in a hospital or other institution for up to 180 days but was sleeping in an emergency shelter or other place not meant for human habitation prior to hospitalization
  • Victim of domestic violence

“If someone has a lot of baggage, it could be prison records, severe mental health issues, multiple evictions, severe substance abuse…chances are this program is not for them. Those are big barriers to overcome in the short amount of time in which we’re able to work with them,” Fred Berry, Administrator of the H.M.I.S. said.

“Folks with a lot of issues going on probably need a two-year transitional program. This is for someone who just had a patch of bad luck, you get it straightened out and move on,” Pierson said.

Also, this is a rental program – it is not for homeowners who are having problems paying their mortgage.

Providing Stability

The goal of this program is to help individuals obtain stability.

“At the end of this we would like to say we took this money and stabilized a family. A year later we’re hoping that they’re still going to be in that house,” Pierson said, “It’s not just a program to pay utility bills only to have the person evicted 2-3 months from now.”

If a family or individual does not have an income, they are not right for the program.

“The reality is that we’re going to get them set up and then three years later they’re gonna tank if they don’t have money coming in,” Pierson said.

Massey-Flinn seconded that, saying “We cannot house someone that has zero income because there’s no possibility of them sustaining the housing once our assistance ends.”

In addition to paying the security deposit and first month’s rent, Home Again will pay 100% of the second month’s rent, 75% of the third month’s, and 50% of months 4,5, and 6.

“We give them a period to get in, get stabilized and then gradually start increasing the amount of their portion of the rent. They should be fairly stable and comfortable by the time the program ends at 6 months. They should be well enough on their feet that they can take it from there and sustain the housing on their own, and we’re finding that to be true,” Massey-Flinn said.

In order to become stable, Case Management and Financial classes are a must.

“The great part is the 6-month follow-up. We provide case management for up to 6 months, so not only do we pay their rent and get them into a housing situation, but we are there to help them stay there and get stabilized,” Massey-Flinn said.

Homeless Management Information Systems (H.M.I.S.)

Home Again falls underneath the umbrella of services and connections intertwined with H.M.I.S. of Summit County (Homeless Management Information System). H.M.I.S.’s goal is to wipe out homelessness in Summit County completely. Two of their yearly events might ring a bell: Project Homeless Connect and Everyone Counts: Point-in-Time Count, where all of the homeless in Summit County are sought out and accounted for so that they can get the help they need.

They take into consideration those who often go un-noticed, including those aging out of the foster system.

“About 70 kids in Summit County age out of foster care every year; they’re 18 years old,” Pierson stated, “Statistically kids are still living at home until their about 26, so when these kids get out they find themselves in financial trouble and wind up being on the streets.”

Making it Happen

“This community got about 3 million dollars; some state money, and some city of Akron money,” Pierson said, “So all of those rent payments and security deposits need to be for apartments and housing in Akron.”

However, there is a small portion of money from the state that can be used outside of Akron.

Home Again reports back to HUD and the Ohio Department of Development, who fund the program.

HUD would like the program to run for 3 years.

“I think that by the time we look at it at the end of the 3 years it’s going to look a little different than it does now. That’s the beauty of this, that we can kind of change it so as we go, depending on what’s happening with the economy and other programs out there. It’s a constantly evolving process,” Pierson said, “We’re going to have good data to show what works and what doesn’t and how we need to tweak things.”

Pierson hopes that by the end of the three years they will have a great model for the community.

“We want to know how to do central intake and do it fast and do it well,” Pierson said.

Success in Summit County

“We’ve gotten an amazing response from the community and really good feedback from other social service providers that work with some of the populations that are eligible for this program,” Berry said.

Intake of phone calls is non-stop. Calls are taken from 9:00 a.m. until noon, Monday through Thursday.

“We’re working with hundreds of people and have tons of stories and lots of successes,” Massey-Flinn said.

Berry recalls one woman in particular who they set up with a security deposit and some things she didn’t have.

“She’s doing awesome. She’s working at Access now and she and her kids are doing very well. She is truly successful and one of those people who this program is really designed for. She just needed a little bit of help to get back into permanent housing again and she’s on her feet and doing well- thriving,” Berry shared.

“We were able to get a couple of homeless veterans housed very, very rapidly by working with the Veterans Administration and AMHA in the HUD vouchers. Its been a nice experience in working with this community to see all of the agencies pull together and say ‘Wow this gives us an opportunity to not do business as usual. We’ve got some flexibility to try some new things’. Everybody’s been willing to say ‘What do we need to do to make it happen, and we’ll make it happen’,” Pierson said.

For more information on Home Again please call 330.615.0566 or visit http://www.infolineinc.org

 

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