Continuum of Care Continues Work to End Homelessness in Summit County (Part One)

By: Katie Sobiech

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Providing shelter for the homeless in Summit County may never be the same.  Some local leaders are changing the way we view housing for the homeless.

After much research and experience, transitional housing may become a thing of the past, as supportive housing proves to be more beneficial.

The Continuum of Care (COC), a coalition with the goal of ending homelessness in Summit County, is the leading agency behind much of what’s been going on.
“The (COC) is a loose body of agencies serving the homeless,” Sue Pierson, Director of Info Line, explained.

Every year the COC applies to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and receives dollars to fund local non-profits who serve the homeless.

When Pierson started working with the COC they funded about 7 projects. Now they are funding 38!

Sue Pierson, Chair of CoC Akron and Director of InfoLine

Homeless Emergency Assistance

The Homeless Emergency Assistance (Hearth Act) passed in 2009 is partly what pushed forward these changes.

Under the Hearth Act, a federal law, the COC is now responsible to decide where the funding goes locally.

“This gives us a whole bunch of powers we never had before. We decide who gets the money, not HUD,” Pierson explained.

Prior to this, each organization would send their individual application directly to HUD, whereas now local grant requests come to the COC here in Summit County, where they rank the grants.

“So now, locally, we decide who gets and doesn’t get that money,” Pierson explained.

And as one could imagine, deciding what gets funded isn’t a small task.
Much research and evaluation is involved to determine how to achieve the greatest impact.

Their experience and research led them to believe that Permanent Supportive Housing may be better than Transitional Housing.

Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing

Along with the Hearth Act, InfoLine started Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRR) 4 ½ years ago as a result of Recovery Act money from President Obama.

It helped start up a lot of programs.

“We really worked on this Housing First idea,” Pierson said.

Being part of Info Line Inc., they already knew how to asses people for services, what services are available from different agencies in Summit County, and how to get people to the right place. They worked with H.M. Life Opportunity Services for the rapid rehousing piece and the Salvation Army for the prevention piece.

Rapid Rehousing enables someone who is living in a shelter or in their car to come into the program.

“We had a pot of money (to give) depending on the size of their family and income,” Pierson explained.

In some cases it could be as much as 4 or 5 thousand dollars.

“It sounds like it’s a lot, but it’s not,” she said.

They would work with them for about 6 months, perhaps paying their security deposit and back utilities, which keep many people out of housing.

“(Say) they have $800 worth of utility bills so they can’t get into AMHA, but we could pay those off. There was a lot of flexibility in that,” Pierson said.

H.M. Life Opportunity Services

Great Results

“Working with HM Life, they were fabulous,” Pierson said.

Some people went from the street to an apartment in 11 days.

They could work with people who had at least $500 of income.  This cuts out some people, but if they had no income they would just end up evicted anyway.
“You had to have somebody with enough going for them. They could have baggage but it had to be neatly packed. Sometimes if their situation was so beyond any ability to take them we wouldn’t take them, we would say we really can’t help you here,” Pierson explained.

Funds Available

The Recovery Act provided a $3.3 million grant over 3 years.  When those funds were exhausted the COC started working with the city and state for other funding.

All of this while the COC was required to work with people that were 30% of the area median income.

“That’s very low, so that was tough,” Pierson said, referring to the loss of funding.

But they are still continuing this project, called Home Again.
“They have to really be homeless and prove it. We still run it that way but it’s cobbled together with all different types of funding and emergency shelter grants. Now that all these things are under the authority of the COC, we can make some of our own decisions,” Pierson said.

New Freedom

So all of the money they receive, whether it’s from the state, emergency shelter grants, or somewhere else, has been rolled into one fund. And they have the freedom to apply it based on our local knowledge where it will do the most good.
Having federal dollars go towards decisions made locally has made the COC very flexible and successful.

Local leaders know how to use the money for the best impact, and they are now well on their way to more effectively ending homelessness.

Stay tuned for next week’s story to get a more in-depth look at why the COC finds the transition to permanent supportive housing so important and how personal factors can affect a person’s ability to keep a house.

For more on Info Line Inc. please visit: www.infolineinc.org .

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