From Homeless to Housed: One Person and One Apartment at a Time

The conversations started, as far as Service Director Julie Grothe can remember, back in 2003. She’s been working to combat homelessness for a long time, and the years, admittedly, get a bit fuzzy. But, one number is still clearly etched in her mind.

Twenty percent. It’s the number that Julie, and other community partners working to end homelessness, kept coming back to. And for good reason: it represented the individuals they couldn’t seem to help. Multiple barriers – untreated symptoms of mental illness, addiction, criminal histories, and unfavorable rental history — were getting in the way. “Eighty percent of individuals were being housed,” Julie recalls. “But, that wasn’t good enough. I didn’t want to see anybody homeless.”

Lots of talk ensued. The solution, the partners determined, was a housing program, with around-the-clock support. But, how would they do it? Could they really design a program that screened people into housing, instead of screening them out?

Julie was determined to find a way and, as it turned out, so were others. Guild Incorporated collaborated with Project for Pride in Living and Hearth Connection. And, in 2009, Delancey Apartments opened, offering 13 apartments for people experiencing chronic, long-term homelessness.

“When people live outside, they forget how to do certain things,” Julie says. “If you’ve been homeless for 10 years, you haven’t done housekeeping; you may not know how to budget for groceries because you’re getting food from food shelves and other resources; and you may not know what it takes to be a good neighbor.”

Leaving the homeless community and culture they’re accustomed to, and moving into an apartment requires significant adjustment. Some residents, Julie explains, sleep on the floor for months, despite having beds. Many feel lonely and isolated. Some are vulnerable to exploitation.

This is where the staff come in. “I have amazing staff that are dedicated and passionate about serving our residents,” says Vicenta Valero, Supportive Housing Services Supervisor.  “The attention and company that they are able to provide our residents is priceless. Being open 24/7 provides availability for residents who may be having a hard time feeling safe and cared for.”

In addition to front desk staff, residents have access to case management, nursing, employment support, and tenant navigation, which is instrumental for those who, after living at Delancey Apartments, no longer need supportive housing. “I’ve seen individuals stay for a year and move on to independent living,” says Vicenta.

Access to additional, integrated services and resources also helps in identifying and resolving issues that may be impacting a person’s ability to live and function in the community. Guild staff members were able to help one resident recognize and get treatment for symptoms of mental illness that were causing her to behave in a way that generated concern for people in her community. Once the symptoms were treated, the behavior stopped, and she was able to maintain her housing.

“What keeps me motivated is seeing folks who have been homeless for 10 to 15 years adjust and live inside,” says Julie. “This is especially true for folks who have been turned down for other opportunities and haven’t been able to make it anywhere else.” Vicenta agrees: “The residents remind me every day that hope is alive and well. I am humbled by their resiliency, perseverance, and genuineness.”

 

January 23, 2018

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