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Homelessness pilot program is 'cutting edge'

Published: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 10:40 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 11:48 p.m. CDT

McHENRY – A pilot program at Home of the Sparrow places the homeless in permanent housing quicker and allows the nonprofit to increase its clientele.

The Rapid Re-Housing Pilot Program started in July and eliminates the need for homeless people to enter a transitional shelter while searching for a permanent residence by placing them directly into a home.

“It’s a cutting edge way to work with the homeless,” said Emily Landis, vice president of program services. “We can take people from literal homelessness and put them into their own home, lessening the impact of their situation.”

Home of the Sparrow increased the number of people it served by about 32 percent last year, data show. The organization placed 43 women and 116 children in transitional shelters and apartments.

Of those served, about 85 percent found permanent housing. The McHenry-based group also added a fifth thrift store and donation center last year.

To combat the increase, the agency expanded the Affordable Housing Program and launched the Rapid Re-Housing Pilot Program.

Staff has since reduced the average length of stay from nine months to four-and-a-half months, data show.

“We want to speed up what we are doing to get people out and more people in,” Landis said. “By doing that, we are opening the doors for other homeless families.”

There are four families enrolled in the pilot program, and 33 women and children were placed in 13 additional affordable housing units the organization obtained in March.

People were selected for the rapid rehousing program based on several factors and Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness.

That includes people living in a shelter or any other place deemed unfit for human habitation, Landis said. They also can’t have a serious barrier or condition that would prevent them from affording the residence.

Those who qualify meet with Home of the Sparrow officials, who make the decision whether the applicants could make it on their own or should be placed in the homes.

To cut down on program costs, the nonprofit forged alliances with local landlords and helps pay the first few months’ rent for the tenant, Landis said. The pilot program costs $20,000.

“What we realized a couple years ago was putting homeless individuals into shelters is not the best way to treat homelessness,” Landis said. “It is a very stressful environment, and we really needed to expand our services for people.”

The pilot program could become permanent in the spring, and officials expect to add five units to the Affordable Housing Program in May.

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