Two homeless assistance programs in Montana will share a $251,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the once-struggling Helena YWCA and its transitional shelter for women.
The Montana Department of Commerce will also receive a portion of the funding, which HUD awarded to various housing programs excluded from last year’s $17 million grant aimed at reducing homelessness in the United States.
The news was particularly sweet for the YWCA, which just two years ago faced a grim list of options that included shuttering its transitional housing program and selling off its downtown shelter.
But the YWCA, led by a new board of directors and a newly hired executive director, has begun to reinvest in its traditional offerings. It will use its $77,000 share of the grant to create a program aimed at helping seven homeless women get back on their feet.
“We have short-term housing, but we don’t have an official program,” said Kellie Goodwin-McBride, the facility’s executive director. “With this grant, we’ll be able to hire an advocate who will work with seven women and help connect them to the resources already established in this community.”
The YWCA has long offered temporary shelter to women in transition. Those who turn to the shelter for boarding currently pay around $325 a month in rent.
But women accepted into the YWCA’s new program will pay just 30 percent of their adjusted gross income. If they’re unemployed, Goodwin-McBride said, they will stay free, although they must adhere to the program’s goals by seeking work, education, volunteering, or taking classes on building their employment skills.
Simply, McBride said, it all comes down to creating self-sufficient people who are capable of making their own way. It’s one of the Obama administration’s goals as it looks to end homelessness among children, families and youth by 2020.
“This will give these seven women between 18 and 24 months a chance to work on themselves, and get to that place where they can get back out into the community to become successful members,” she said. “It’s going to move the Y in the direction we need to be going. It will help with the homeless problem that much more.”
The homeless problem, as it has become known, lies at the root of HUD’s Continuum of Care program, which awarded roughly $17.4 million in grants last year. The grants offered by HUD provide permanent and transitional shelter to homeless persons across the country.
In addition to providing shelter, however, the grants also pave the way for additional services aimed at ending homelessness. They include job training, health care, mental-health counseling, child care and substance-abuse treatment.
“They have to be willing to commit to the program for about 18 months, and commit to meeting with advocates, taking classes and working within the program’s parameters,” Goodwin-McBride said. “This grant is going to help tremendously.”
Joe Wojton of God’s Love — the city’s oldest homeless and transitional shelter — supports the YWCA’s move to establish its new program. Wojton was pleased with the news and said the YWCA’s efforts to advance homeless and transitional care is good for the community.
Beyond the YWCA, the Montana Department of Commerce and its Shelter Plus Care program will also receive $174,000 from the grant.
Maureen Martin, chief of the Montana Department of Commerce’s Housing Assistance Bureau, said the money will help homeless families who come with a mental-health referral pay for housing during treatment.
“A case worker refers them to us and we help them pay for a housing unit and the deposit,” Martin said. “What the hope is, between the case management and our assistance, is that they become stabilized and are able to live more independently.”
Martin said that with current funding, her agency is able to help around 35 individuals statewide with housing. The new HUD grant will enable the agency to fund roughly 17 more slots in underserved areas. The slots will be maintained for families.
“It’s a good program to help stabilize these families,” said Bruce Brensdal, administrator of the Housing Division with the Department of Commerce. “Getting them into a unit will offer stabilization so they can get jobs, get their kids to school and receive proper health care.”
Of the five states in HUD’s Region 8 section, Utah received $1.3 million from the latest round of granting, followed by Colorado at $1 million. South Dakota received $532,000, Montana $252,000, and North Dakota around $120,000.
According to HUD, such homeless grants have reduced chronic homelessness in the U.S. by 30 percent since 2006. The agency attributed the decline to the grants and creating more permanent housing for those who would otherwise be living in the streets.
At the same time, however, the agency also reported that homelessness among families has increased over the past two years. It’s a statistic experts have attributed to the recession.
Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or firstname.lastname@example.org