Nonprofits call on landlords to consider renting space to homeless or at-risk sheltered populations
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Local nonprofits are seeking landlords who will rent their empty units to the unsheltered homeless or populations living in tightly quartered shelters.
Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center will receive $50,000 in state funds to assist with housing unsheltered individuals and families in an effort to contain the coronavirus and will use this funding to pay the rent for these spaces.
“Our big request is we’d love to see landlords that have any open units and are willing to help let us know,” said Lawrence City Commissioner Brad Finkeldei. “We have the means to fill them up and get people off the streets and out of tight quarters.”
Mathew Faulk, supportive housing supervisor at Bert Nash and the person in charge of disseminating the funds, said the funding from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services must be primarily targeted to aid the unsheltered homeless population, who, because of their inability to quarantine, are more likely to spread the coronavirus.
“Unsheltered persons are more at risk and place the general population at risk for spreading COVID-19,” he said. “To ensure we are doing our best to contain the spread of this disease, we are making a concerted effort to house unsheltered households so they can adhere to social distancing.”
But concern also exists for those living in close quarters, such as is the case at the Lawrence Community Shelter and The Willow Domestic Violence Center. Faulk said some of this funding could be used to help this population.
“With congregate living environments like that … if the disease shows up in any of those shelters, we’ve got a problem,” he said.
Bert Nash and other community nonprofits have been in communication about this issue. Faulk said The Willow has volunteered to reach out to landlords, and the other organizations are compiling a list of households who are unsheltered and ranking them in order of health risk.
There is also a possibility that the city and county will match the state funds and allow the money to be used for populations living in tight quarters at shelters.
Faulk and other leaders are aware that asking landlords to consider renting their units to this population is difficult.
The fair market rent in Douglas County for a one-bedroom unit is $733 per month. For a down payment and first month deposit, it would cost “$1,466 to get someone in the door,” Faulk noted.
With the $50,000 in state funding, housing would be provided for about 30 households for one month. Faulk said at least 70 households were currently unsheltered.
“This is a great opportunity and I’m very thankful for it but at the same time the level of need outstrips the $50,000,” he said.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly recently issued an executive order that temporarily prohibits evictions, something Faulk mentioned might make landlords nervous. Other barriers include poor credit and prior evictions, said the Willow’s executive director, Megan Stuke, who has been working to reach out to landlords.
Because of the departure of many University of Kansas students, however, Faulk said landlords may be struggling to fill vacancies in the coming months.
Other community organizations are also trying to help out.
Lawrence Family Promise is using some of its Help Us Move In (HUMI) grant to pay for individual housing units for families at the Lawrence Community Shelter and the Willow, Family Promise’s executive director Dana Ortiz said. All the families at Family Promise have already been separated out of tight living quarters.
Chip Blaser, the executive director of the Douglas County Community Foundation, said it may provide assistance through the Douglas County Disaster Response Fund and that it was “taking donations for that fund for purposes such as this.”
If any landlords are interested in renting their empty units to serve this population, they may contact Faulk at Mfaulk@Bertnash.com or Stuke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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