New homelessness effort to focus on prevention

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Emphasis will be on preventing homelessness rather than dealing with its after-effects when Homeless Solutions Inc. (HSI) takes up the local cause in earnest this fall.

HSI, the newly created non-profit organization dedicated to providing shelter and related services to area households experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty, is shooting for an October start, Acting Executive Director Joel Rekas told 40 local residents Tuesday night at Greencastle City Hall.

"We're on the fast track," Rekas said. "We will open when we have the facilities finalized."

The hub of HSI activity, Rekas noted, will be a center that houses agency staff, hosts visiting agencies, and provides space where people seeking services will come.

The center will not, however, locate emergency beds there.

HSI will focus on three areas in its delivery of services to area residents in need, Rekas reported:

-- Prevention: "It is always better policy to prevent an episode of homelessness for a family, if possible," Rekas said. "It is healthier and less disruptive for the family and a more cost-effective approach for the agency."

The primary tool HSI will utilize for prevention is emergency financial assistance, including payment of rent to prevent eviction and payment of utility bills to prevent disconnection. Other prevention activities will include landlord-tenant mediation and a range of social services.

-- Emergency shelter: HSI will provide immediate emergency shelter to families who are experiencing homelessness. Families will be sheltered in area rental units that HSI will be leasing, rather than the traditional congregate facility.

"During their stay," Rekas noted, "HSI staff will work intensively with each family to secure permanent housing."

If HSI discovers during its first year of operation that the need for emergency beds exceeds existing capacity, it will explore adding a congregate facility, Rekas added.

-- Comprehensive social services: HSI staff will work collaboratively with each family to develop a plan with goals designed to help them achieve the greatest degree of self-sufficiency possible.

Also important to reversing the trend of homelessness is a chance for people in need to connect with the proper agencies in order to acquire valid identification, such as driver's licenses and birth certificates.

"Without proper identification," Rekas stressed, "you can't open a bank account, rent an apartment or get a job. Who's going to hire you without an ID?

"It sounds so simple," he added, "but if you're homeless, these are such large barriers."

Homeless Solutions will have an operating budget of $170,000 for its first year. Funds will pay for program staff, emergency shelter costs and prevention services.

Three employees will comprise the HIS staff -- a fulltime executive director, a fulltime counselor/social worker and one part-time counselor.

Rekas, who is acting director on a three-month temporary contract, stopped short of saying he would become the fulltime executive director.

"That's under discussion right now," he said.

HSI board member David English explained that the $170,000 will need to come from a variety of sources.

Individual contributions of $40,000 are targeted, along with $20,000 from the faith community and $10,000 from corporate donations.

Also contributing toward the goal are the Putnam County Community Foundation ($15,000 match of the first $15,000 raised), United Way ($10,000) and the City of Greencastle ($7,000).

Efforts are also under way to secure state and federal grants, as well as support from public and private foundations.

"It's all doable," Rekas said, "the basic underpinnings are ready to go, but we need to raise some funds."

While there has been no program or actual shelter available to the Putnam County homeless since the A-Way Home closed last September, Rekas and HSI are planning to change that in the next few weeks.

"We plan to have things on hand that most of us take for granted," Rekas added, alluding to a bank of telephones for people in need to use to conduct their personal business.

The center is also destined to serve as a mailing address for homeless residents, while also stocking "basic necessities" such as diapers, formula and wipes.

Donations are now being accepted toward the HSI funding goal.

Checks should be made payable to United Way of Putnam County (still currently the fiscal agent for HSI) with "Homeless Solutions Inc. " written in the notation line. Checks should be mailed to: Homeless Solutions Inc., P.O. Box 733, Greencastle, IN 46135.

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  • How long will that money last paying for rent and utilities? Aren't there other organizations who already pay for rent as well as utilities? And to rent another space for them to stay in while being homeless? Don't get some of these statements!

    -- Posted by putcocvb on Thu, Aug 23, 2012, at 3:14 PM
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