Program targets homeless

First Posted: 12/6/2009

DOBSON What started as a grant to prevent homelessness in Surry and Yadkin counties has morphed into a new program administered by the Surry County Department of Social Services.
DSS workers began last week interviewing applicants to the Surry – Yadkin Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). But this new program isnt just for anybody.
The purpose of the federal program is to reach people who are homeless or soon will be without intervention.
They want us to help people who have a lot of barriers, said Wayne Black, director of Surry DSS.
Funds for the program came from a grant of nearly $800,000 by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Stimulus funds totaling $18 million have been given to 20 agencies in the state to administer the new HPRP program.
Black said at the federal level, HPRP is the only entirely new program being created with the stimulus funds. The rest of the grants simply added to existing programs.
HPRP is a pilot program, and the funds run out on August 31, 2012. Black said they have no promise of continuing the project beyond that point; however, if it goes well, the program could be the jumping off point for a new Housing and Urban Development program.
Its an experiment, said Black.
The county received word it had received the grant in early September. It then had to finalize paperwork and hire two full-time staff positions for the program. Black said in an earlier interview that the Surry Homeless and Affordable Housing Coalition initiated the grant effort. Surry DSS was chosen to administer the two-county grant.
The new workers and Black underwent two-day training by the state educate them about the new program. Black said they came away with a thick binder of information and regulations.
And a lot of changes from what it was going to be, he added. Its more complex. Much more requirements.
The workers joke that the program is like flying the plane while its being built.
Black said, Its still somewhat of a moving target, but its becoming much clearer.
The program is targeting youth aging out of foster care, families with children in homeless shelters, individuals being discharged from hospitals and psychiatric facilities, and individuals discharged from prison.
If a person or family would most likely go back to being homeless after 18 months in the HPRP program, then Black said they cant help them. This program is to help people become self-sufficient.
Fuhrmann, one of the new HPRP workers, explained, Our goal is to stabilize and help as many households as possible become productive and self-sufficient through this program and then exit the program so we can use the money for somebody else.
Black said that during the training they were given statistics stating that nationwide, out of every 100 families assisted with housing, 15 would have become homeless even with the help, and 80 would not have been homeless without the help. That leaves only five percent who were truly kept from homelessness thanks to intervention.
So Surrys challenge is to find that 5 percent who would be homeless without help.
The workers explained that this program is different from other housing assistance programs in that it focuses on case management. The two workers serve as case managers who will each be able to keep loads of around 25 cases at any given time.
Black emphasized that the program is not a foreclosure or mortgage assistance program and they arent out to advertise it. Referrals are coming in from various agencies and stakeholders in Surry and Yadkin.
The case workers will work closely with each household. These households can receive help for up to 18 months as long as they remain income eligible. This eligibility has to be reevaluated every 90 days.
When evaluating candidates, workers look at income, their housing status, their support system of friends or family, and more. To be eligible, a households income cant be above 50 percent of the average median income for the county they reside in. The workers also target people who dont have support systems.
If a household is determined eligible, DSS immediately begins working with a landlord. Rent, utilities, and security deposits can be paid for eligible households. All payments are given to third parties, not to the applicants.
The program is headed by HUD, and households already receiving HUD or housing assistance cannot benefit from HPRP. The common HUD rent voucher program has different target groups and is a longer term program. It currently has a 3-4 year waiting list.
This program is shorter term, said Candy Hall, another HPRP worker in Surry.
HPRP workers also have to conduct HUD-level inspections of houses for the homeless to move into. Much paperwork is also required.
Black, who has worked in social services for 30 years, said, This is going to be the most oversight on a program that Ive ever done.
If the workers make errors or if fraudulent claims are allowed to pass, then the county cannot be reimbursed for these payments given out.
We are moving forward carefully, Black said.
He also explained that they can only serve the people the program is designed for, otherwise they wont receive payment. No money has been budgeted from the county for the program.
Black said the program could reach anywhere from 100 to 300 households during its three-year period.
I think theres a lot of folks that have been impacted by the downturn in the economic situation … There are a lot of people out there who are struggling, Black said.
Since 2000, Black said all of the programs at DSS have seen an increase in numbers. The challenge with HPRP will be in identifying the people who meet the right criteria.
So far this week, HPRP workers in Surry have done 10 to 12 evaluations.
We expected quite a few and got quite a few, Fuhrmann said.
Fuhrmann believes the program will help reduce peoples need for other services from DSS in the future. He said studies have shown that if peoples housing is stabilized first, then theres a better chance they will be able to stabilize other aspects of their life.
Black said, We want them to be successful.
Contact Meghann Evans at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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