Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Homeless to Housing organizers report obstacles

April 22, 2006


Despite the efforts of several organizations, the Homeless to Housing program has yet to draw substantial participation from tenants.

"The problem I've had has been getting the participants to attend classes," said Tammy Kahle of Housing Credit Counseling Inc. (HCCI). Kahle works as an educator at classes provided for prospective tenants.

About the class

Classes for Homeless to Housing are generally offered at the end of the month, though they are dependent on number of participants. For more information, contact Tammy Kahle at 243-0293, Landlords of Lawrence at 842-0452 or the Salvation Army at 843-4188. HCCI can be visited on the web at

Geared toward finding homes for those who would otherwise be left in the cold, the program is structured to act as an avenue to independence for participants.

"Some people are just down on their luck, lost a job and can bounce back up with this program," Kahle said. "We want to get them out of that situation and into something permanent and help them become aware that they are independent and responsible."

Those who have completed the classes are confident in their abilities to become entirely self-sufficient and are well-aware of their rights and responsibilities, Kahle said.

Instead of focusing on one specific segment of those with housing needs, the program is structured to accommodate a variety of situations. Among them, Kahle noted single mothers as well as families of five whose income will not support them in the current market.

"We try to help them," Kahle said. "We're here for those people."

Kahle added that special arrangements could be made for individuals suffering from mental disease and alcoholism who are willing to participate.

Those seeking housing must attend two six-hour classes covering advice on topics such as budgeting, looking for jobs, and the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords.

Rather than working as a subsidy, the program covers the first month of rent as well as the deposit for tenants.

"We take people with a steady income and we try to match up what they make reasonably with something in Lawrence," Kahle said.

According to HCCI, personal backgrounds such as credit, criminal history and evictions will not affect acceptance into the program. However, tenants must have adequate income to sustain rent, utilities and other general living costs.

To remain eligible, tenants must adhere to the program's rules and responsibilities. Case management and monthly home visits from program representatives are among the requirements.

In spite of the assistance offered, Kahle believes rental fees are a deal breaker for some who would otherwise benefit from the program.

"People get discouraged and do not want to apply for this housing because they cannot afford rent," she said.

In an effort to attract more participants, the Homeless to Housing program was recently amended. Originally, the program was only available to those who had been denied housing assistance from other organizations. Now, even people on waiting lists with other agencies are free to apply.

"An applicant could be on a waiting list for 12 months and then be denied housing," Kahle said. "We're going to accept everyone who needs housing as long as they can pay the rent."

Kahle believes the program could reach many more in need if it were to operate as a subsidy like some other housing organizations.

"We want to share some success stories, but show that it can be even more successful as a subsidy," she said.

To further publicize the program, Kahle has begun contacting other area organizations.

"We are trying to get the word out there to more social services agencies to make them aware that they probably do have participants for us," she said.

"Enough people are out there, but not enough are made aware."

Attracting good tenants is a major concern for Bob Ebey, a member of both the Homeless to Housing Committee and Landlords of Lawrence.

"So far, the program has not been a success because it seems like the tenants do not assume responsible for their own actions," he said.

One problem Ebey noted was the ability of tenants to maintain the financial stability to cover living costs.

"It seems like the tenants do not have the funds to pay rent and utilities after the program pays the first 30 days rent, requires no deposit and pays the application fee," he said.

"The committee makes sure the tenant has the funds to pay before we accept them. What happens to the tenant's money?"

Ebey is skeptical as to whether the Homeless to Housing program will be able to continue.

"Tenants must not only [be] given the rules, but a reminder all the time by the case manager of what their responsibility is. For some reason, the classes are not working and I believe the agencies do not fully understand the Homeless to Housing Program," Ebey said.

"By not understanding, the agencies are either not putting the information out or putting the information on the program out wrong. The agencies feel this is a 'give me' project and not a help project. Some people can not be helped no matter what we do."

According to HCCI, participating landlords will be compensated for up to $3,000 for background check fees, first month's rent and possible damages.

In addition to HCCI and Landlords of Lawrence, the Salvation Army and Lawrence Practitioners Housing Needs Subcommittee of the Lawrence Practitioners Panel collaborate on the project, which is funded by a grant from the City of Lawrence Housing Trust Fund.

Joshua Seiden is a freelance writer.


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