Info Line Inc. Offers Hotline for the Homeless (Part 2)
Story by Katie Cassaro
Imagine this. You are struggling financially and then lose your job. You have children to feed and bills to pay, but no income. You are now facing the possibility of homelessness.
You are one of the nearly 900 homeless individuals living in Summit County.
So where do you go? And what do you do?
The Continuum of Care (CoC), a branch of Info Line, Inc. works around the clock to help people in this critical situation.
And they continue to grow, improve and add services to better serve the homeless. Their most recent launch being the Homeless Hotline.
How it Works
The CoC has about 45% of Akron’s housing stock working with them at the moment and are currently adding more homeless assistance providers.
Rather than call the provider directly, the homeless now call the hotline where Info Line does the initial screening and assessment for that provider.
“If shelter is their only option we refer them to that provider for services. Most of the providers are in a wait list situation so we manage their wait lists for them and have those seeking assistance check in with us,” Fred Berry, Housing Services Manager of Info Line Inc., said.
The benefit, Berry says is “This frees up time for case managers and the providers to do more mission critical work with those they are serving.”
This has greatly improved services to the homeless by making it easier to access shelter through one point of contact for those who really need it.
And those working at local shelters have noticed the difference.
“It’s streamlined our staff. We had up to 100 names (of homeless individuals) and we don’t have to keep that anymore. Info Line has the database,” Lynn Budnick, Executive Director of ACCESS, said.
Creating a Fair System
“It’s fairer too. You couldn’t get ahold of people before,” she shared.
Before, those without a phone were impossible to get back to. If no one could contact you it was on to the next person on the list. You were out of luck.
Now, as beds become available they identify the client with the greatest need on the wait list and refer them to a provider for services.
“Prioritization of those with greatest need is part of our assessment process which enables us to potentially divert some folks from shelter altogether when a safe alternative is available,” Berry said.
“We can really focus on those who have a history of housing crisis issues and require a more long term intervention to become stabilized again” he continued.
This all came about as a recommendation of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
At the same time Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which funded homeless prevention and rapid re-housing activities (the Home Again program) they also passed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009.
“The HEARTH Act charges CoCs with streamlining the process for those seeking shelter and housing services to access those services by making it easier for them to do so by creating a centralized or coordinated point of assessment,” Berry said.
This approach is what is referred to at the national level as a “Close the front door and open the back door” approach to addressing the issue.
“This means we identify the multiple points of entry and work with agencies who serve those populations to direct their clients through the Homeless Hotline when they are experience a housing crisis,” Berry said.
This creates one point of entry making it easier for them to get services.
“If they have to take advantage of services provided by homeless assistance programs we need to make it easier for them to exit the homeless system,” he continued.
Overall, this is greatly improving things on many different levels. It’s freeing up the hands of agencies to focus more on their services, it’s creating a fair system, and improving the way homelessness is dealt with.
It’s also cutting down the number of homeless.
“As we bring more and more providers into central intake, we believe we will start to see shorter lengths of homelessness and fewer returns to homelessness because of our ability to coordinate the right resources early on in their housing crisis. And we can better match client’s needs to the right intervention that will lead to long term housing stability,” Berry said.
For more information on the Homeless Hotline, Continuum of Care and/or Info Line Inc. please visit: www.infolineinc.org