Feeling at home with success

Group targeting county homelessness cultivating solid ground from assistance

When Johnson County’s first comprehensive plan to reduce homelessness began, organizers were beset by unknowns.

They didn’t know how effective the blend of case management and immediate financial assistance would be in pulling people out of poverty.

People had to set goals for gaining reliable housing, financial stability, employment and other markers, but organizers were unsure if setting those markers would lead to long-term success.

One year after the first participants started No Place to Call Home, the effort has made a definitive impact. So far, 167 adults and children have received help with case management and financial assistance in efforts to pull themselves out of homelessness and the cycle of poverty.

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The goal set before No Place to Call Home launched was serving 22 households in the first year. Organizers ended up working with 38.

“It’s satisfying that the program we developed seems to be working, and that we seem to be on the right track. You kind of hold your breath,” said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County. “When we were talking about this in January 2016, it was just an idea. Now, it’s actually working.”

Eight households have gone through at least three months of management, met their goals regarding finding secure housing and employment and established a stable income to successfully complete the program.

“They’ve taken strides, and now they know what success feels and looks like. And many of them hadn’t felt that in a long time,” said Tina McAninch, director of No Place to Call Home.

The program now has 23 households, representing 69 people, active in working their way out of homelessness.

“The families that are active, and even those who dropped out of the program, I can think of very few who did not have at least something that I’d call a success,” McAninch said. “We have eight folks who have completed the program, but have people who are completing those little baby steps every day.”

No Place to Call Home organizers have been working on the initiative for nearly three years, starting with an in-depth report commissioned by the United Way of Johnson County.

Months of meetings with faith-based groups, schools, service agencies and law enforcement went into the research of the problem. Members of the steering committee decided on a coordinated approach, with multiple different agencies working together on the issue.

No Place to Call Home launched with a small group of five households. Two more were added in November, and the program expanded in late February.

The process starts with an entry system, identifying and referring people in need of help through partnering sources, such as the United Way Helpline, churches, social agencies and the Franklin Township trustee.

An emphasis is made to find what assistance can be given quickly, including temporary housing. Clients are then referred to a case manager through a network of existing organizations in the county.

More than 150 households were referred to No Place to Call Home in the first year, and 46 were accepted to the program. Of those who were not accepted, a majority didn’t follow through with McAninch after initially asking for help.

For those who entered into it, agencies such as Adult and Child Health, Gateway Services, Turning Point, the Children’s Bureau and KIC-IT all have partnered with the initiative to provide case management.

People are asked to set goals when they enter the program, from the ideals for housing and financial stability to employment, health and education.

Case managers provide them with the resources to meet those goals.

“The homeless are in a very vulnerable situation. Many of these people have root issues that need to be addressed,” Plake said. “Every person is different. Every situation is different.”

The past year has also provided those working with the homeless important data on the struggles they face. Of the 46 households who had been served in the program, 20 percent of them were homeless due to being evicted or having their house foreclosed on.

Divorce was the root cause of another 15 percent of the households, while physical health, job loss and domestic violence were also prevalent, McAninch said.

“We suspected the reasons would be all over the place, and it has been,” she said.

Looking forward to the next 12 months, the hope is to serve 44 new households, Plake said. Organizers are refining the way that they track the success of the households enrolled in the program, as well as the long-term status of those who have been discharged from the program.

Developing a system that better serves senior citizens struggling with homelessness is another focus.

“As someone who has lost long-term housing, or have not had stable housing, the thought of having to apply for some place to live is very intimidating. Coaching them on having those conversations, what to ask, who they call, there’s a lot to it,” McAninch said.

The No Place to Call Home group has also formed a housing committee to explore community partnerships in order to find housing options for the homeless.

“We can case manage the world out of this, but if we don’t have a place to put individuals and families, it doesn’t work,” Plake said. “We have to start with our local community, and how we can work with our local landlords about how we can integrate a system of housing.”

Fundraising remains the greatest challenge moving forward, Plake said. The community has been supportive of the effort thus far.

Local philanthropic organization 100+ Women Who Care awarded the program with $10,100 in February. Churches and other faith-based groups provided more than $31,000.

No Place to Call Home organizers were able to secure a United Way grant to provide more than $144,000 through June 2020.

Organizers will also be focusing on additional grants to apply for, in order to solidify funding for the next three to six years.

“That’s what has me most concerned — that we make sure all of this doesn’t go away,” Plake said.

At a glance

No Place to Call Home

What: A coordinated partnership to end homelessness, spearheaded through the United Way of Johnson County

How to help: Donations to the program can be made to the United Way of Johnson County, with “No Place to Call Home” in the memo line.

By the numbers

No Place to Call Home

October 2016 through September 2017

153: Households referred to the program during its first year

167: Number of adults and children served with case management and financial assistance.

69: Adults and children actively being served at the end of September

8: Households who successfully completed the program

At a glance

Here is a look at the households served by social service providers:

Adult and Child Health: 4

Children’s Bureau: 6

Community Partners: 14

Gateway Services: 9

KIC-IT: 3

The Salvation Army: 8

Turning Point: 1

At a glance

Primary cause of homeless, by household:

Eviction/foreclosure: 9

Divorce/separation: 7

Physical health: 6

Loss of job: 5

Domestic violence: 4

Mental health: 3

Substance use: 3

Family dynamic change: 3

Chronic unemployment: 3

Child support issues: 2

Child support arrears: 1

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.