Chesterton Tribune

Porter County groups release 10 year plan for to fight homelessness

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Organizations addressing housing issues in Porter County banded together on Monday to announce the No Place Like Home initiative, a ten-year plan to end homelessness throughout the county.

The plan is the product of the Porter County Coalition for Affordable Housing made up of businesses, churches, retirement homes and homeless shelters. The Porter County Commissioners, the City of Valparaiso, the City of Portage and the Town of Chesterton and others provided funding for the plan.

Barb Young, president of the Porter County Community Foundation, said the coalition has been meeting over several years to create a “road map” of the steps to take and identify the needs involved.

The group hired the Chicago-based Social IMPACT Research Center for $35,000 to assess the statistics of homelessness and the primary factors putting county residents at greater risk for homelessness.

Social IMPACT collected data surveying service providers, businesses, housing developers and elected officials and helped formulate the ten-year plan which all can be downloaded from its website, www.heartlandalliance.org/research

The report is also available on Websites of coalition members:

www.housing-opportunities.com

www.portercountyfoundation.org

www.porterstarke.org

and www.unitedwaypc.org

Findings

Amy Rynell of Social IMPACT said the number of homeless persons in Porter County for January 2011 was 154 adults, many of them women, and 75 children, an increase over 2010 figures.

Over 2,200 children and 8,068 adults were living below the poverty line – a household income of $18,530 or less – in 2009. Hebron is estimated to be the community with the highest rate of poverty (14.9 percent) while Dune Acres had the lowest (.8 percent). Chesterton, Burns Harbor and Porter were in the middle with seven to ten percent of residents living in poverty.

Well over one-quarter of households in the county have an annual income below $35,000, Rynell said, while it costs more than $39,000 to support a family of three per year.

“The cost of living is much higher than what common households are making,” she said.

There were 215 homeless students in county schools in 2010. Rynell said homeless students have a 20 percent lower graduation rate than their peers.

Inadequate income and lack of good paying jobs were chief reasons why homelessness exists in Porter County. Low educational attainment poses a challenge to finding good jobs for families to work their way out of poverty, Rynell said.

Rynell also added households in Porter County spend 30 percent or more of their income for housing, almost double the amount households were paying nearly a decade ago. Increased housing costs left families burdened, with less money for food and medication.

One-third of the homeless persons counted in the 2011 county report said they were victims of domestic violence.

Speaking on her experience of becoming a victim of spousal abuse, Jennifer Dillin of Valparaiso gave emotional testimony to an auditorium of about 200 people on how she found herself homeless after escaping her husband when they lived in Phoenix, Ariz. Her case illustrates that it is possible anyone could find themselves without a home, she said.

“There are many different faces of homelessness,” said Dillin.

Affordable Housing

Meanwhile, Social IMPACT also found there to be 2,233 subsidized housing units in Porter County. Eleven percent of these subsidies, however, are predicted to be expired by the end of 2015, which Rynell said could put more rental housing at risk if those units are returned to market rate rents.

The county has 222 homeless system beds, 70 of which are transitional beds. With the increasing number of homeless persons, many in need of assistance are being turned away.

Many homeless are staying in transitional housing where they can receive support services that will ready them for permanent housing.

The study reports long waiting lists for the affordable housing units that exist in the county. Another trend shows an increase in the number of residents “doubling up” or moving in with friends or relatives, spurred by the growth of foreclosures.

Almost all places offering housing aid (94.4 percent) find it difficult to place their clients in Porter County, the report said.

Groups working to find homes include The Caring Place and Housing Opportunities, Inc. of Valparaiso and Gabriel’s Horn Homeless Shelter in South Haven.

United Way of Porter County President Sharon Kish said those in poverty should first seek assistance from their township trustees before trying other services.

Ten Year Plan Strategy

The coalition, with assistance from Social IMPACT, developed 15 separate goals focusing on increasing affordable housing and homeless prevention.

“All residents will have access to a safe, affordable home in Porter County including the resources and support services necessary to prevent and end homelessness,” the report says.

Education is a major part of the plan. The coalition aims to expand life skills for children and adults and encourage prevention options for residents on the brink of becoming homeless.

Furthermore, one of the goals is to increase participation in programs assisting community members with managing their physical and mental health.

Other goals include growing the coalition for affordable housing, adopting a Housing First model within the system, and seeking funding to support the new system with national and state grants.

During the first year, the coalition plans to increase access to stable and affordable housing by taking inventories of housing available, meeting with 40 private landlords “to identify barriers to renting to vulnerable tenants,” develop homelessness prevention-based programs with public school systems, assess job training programs and raise community awareness.

How You Can Help

Attendees at Monday’s presentation were offered instructions on what individual citizens can do to help the homeless prevention effort. They include:

• Help raise funds by hosting fundraisers or making donations to one of the local coalition members or participating foundations.

• Spread the word about the program to social media and newspapers.

• Volunteer time by joining a Plan to End Homelessness Committee.

• Help develop affordable housing by asking builders to set aside affordable units in new developments.

• Sponsor a talk on homelessness at local churches or clubs.

• Help those in need find the right services.

• Advocate the plan to elected officials or candidates running for office.

• Assess your business to see if wages are high enough relative to the local cost of housing.

• Work with a non-profit group to garner donations.

• Treat people experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect.

Porter County Aging and Community Services Director Bruce Linder echoed Dillin’s statement that “homelessness can happen to anybody at any time” and said the community needs “to stay away from being prejudiced and jaded.”

“Each one of us can do a little bit of something,” he said.

 

Posted 1/31/2012