Chattanooga groups combine resources to provide housing

Chattanooga groups combine resources to provide housing

July 5th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Bernadette Roberts holds her daughter Serenity in her room Friday at Room in the Inn shelter. Roberts, who will be able to stay in the shelter for several more months, is one of hundreds of Chattanooga homeless people looking for permanent housing.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

NEED HOUSING?

Those who are homeless may qualify for housing by getting their case manager to contact the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition on their behalf. People who are homeless may get case managers by visiting the homeless health care center near the Chattanooga Community Kitchen at 727 E. 11th St.

A handful of Chattanooga agencies and nonprofits is drawing national attention for their use of a simple concept to tackle one of America's most stubborn social problems.

Call it the "bring what you have" approach to addressing homelessness.

The Chattanooga Housing Authority, the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition and service providers throughout the city are forming partnerships to get more than 100 homeless people housed.

"This is the first time that this has occurred at this large of a scale," said Mary Simons, executive director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition.

CHA is providing the housing or housing vouchers, and the other agencies are providing the counseling and other services necessary to help the homeless be successful because housing alone often is not enough, experts say.

The partnerships could serve as a model for ending homelessness across the country, said a national housing official.

"This is not the usual way of doing business for housing authorities," said Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on

Homelessness. "It puts the Chattanooga Housing Authority among a few who recognize ... that housing isn't just saved for people to go from one kind of housing to another but that some of those resources have to go to people who have no housing."

Housing agencies are sometimes anxious about providing housing to the homeless because of concern that the person being housed will end up homeless again, said Mangano.

But in an effort to end at least some homelessness, CHA gave the coalition 75 housing vouchers. CHA board members approved the vouchers in June. The vouchers will be available this month. The housing authority has given a total of 100 housing vouchers to the coalition since April. The vouchers are used to rent private apartments or houses.

"It's new, exciting ground," Simons said. "Public housing units for homeless people have increased from 15 units to another 20 units for a total of 35. And for the vouchers, they first approved 25, now it's expanded to 100. We're very grateful."

She said homeless service providers and housing agencies around the country are partnering to provide housing for homeless people, and CHA is among the leaders in the effort.

From 2003 to 2007, the homeless count dropped from about 1,100 people to just under 500 in the Chattanooga region. But now the region has been stuck at just under 500 for three years, said Simons.

CHA first gave the coalition 25 housing vouchers in April, but the demand was so great for housing that 28 other homeless people formed a waiting list for more vouchers as soon as the first set was issued. So CHA gave 75 more vouchers.

CHA also is providing up to 20 units of public housing in a partnership with the Homeless Coalition, Volunteer Behavioral Health, Chattanooga Room in the Inn and Family Promise of Chattanooga in what is called a Housing First program. Housing First is a model that calls for getting a roof over the heads of the homeless, then providing job counseling, mental health services and more.

While CHA supplies housing, the agencies will provide services for six months to a year for people who are homeless.

At the end of the program, the resident will graduate and remain in the apartment. Then CHA will make another apartment available to the program.

"We have the housing, so how do we best get it to the people who need it the most," said Betsy McCright, CHA's executive director. "I think this is a great step."

Some of those already on waiting lists for public housing and rental vouchers will be among those receiving the new help for the homeless, Simons said. Other homeless may receive housing without having been on the list, she said.

But she noted that the vouchers also are intended to serve those who need housing the most, people who have been living for at least a month in tents or in shelters.

Housing authorities are right that simply providing housing with no services usually sets people up for failure and folks who were homeless become homeless again, but providing housing and services is a solution, said Mangano.

Bernadette Roberts is among the city's hundreds of homeless people who could use some help.

The 39-year-old mother of a 2-month-old baby was homeless while she was pregnant and lives in transitional housing now. She made a living by working at national parks that provide housing to employees. She's worked in Alaska, Texas and at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but this year she didn't get hired. She doesn't drink, smoke or do drugs, and she's willing to work, she said.

"I feel blessed," she said. "All I need is a home."

She talks about struggles with depression and fear of failure, then looks at her daughter and gains courage.

"It's not about me anymore," said Roberts. "I've got to get housing. I want her to be happy."

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