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Programs get grants to help homeless

Two dozen agencies to share $4.3 million in Continuum of Care funds

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Emily Walkenhorst

Although Teronica Snell has only lived at Our House for three months, she’s already felt her life begin to change.

She feels supported and more stable than when she was moving from place to place last year with three of her children.

“I’m learning even to laugh,” she said, sitting on an Our House couch, looking down through her thick-rimmed glasses, her hair neatly plaited back.

The 42-year-old single mother of six carries a backpack around now that the Little Rock nonprofit is helping her study for a GED diploma and since she started to help in a pre-kindergarten classroom.

Snell thinks she can get the stability in her life that she never had, even growing up.

Our House is one of several organizations across Arkansas to receive grant renewals this year to address and prevent chronic homelessness. This is the first year the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would not be able to re-fund all existing programs.

Two dozen programs helping hundreds of Arkansans received $4.3 million last week in Continuum of Care grants, up $300,000 from last year.

Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for the federal agency, said sequestration, growth in the number of programs and a mostly stagnant pool of money from which to pull the grants are contributing to agencies needing to decide whether to ask for less money or not ask for program renewal at all.

The 15-county region of northeast Arkansas called“Delta Hills” did not ask to renew the program it had renewed last year, although the southeast Arkansas region renewed two programs it did not seek renewal for last year, partially accounting for the increase in money given to state nonprofits.

Organizations benefiting from the awards include Our House, River City Ministry, the Little Rock Community Mental Health Center and the city of Pine Bluff Supportive Housing Program.

The Continuum of Care grants are for programs designed to curb chronic homelessness, which means a person has been without a home for at least a year or four or more times during the past three years. Nationwide, the grants totaled $1.6 billion.

The grants for Arkansas came at the request of Little Rock, Pine Bluff and east Arkansas area nonprofits and the department’s area Continuum of Care offices.

The Little Rock area got $3.7 million.

Little Rock has a 10-year plan to eradicate chronic homelessness that began in 2006. The mayor’s commission for homeless services includes officials from all over Pulaski County, and the new Jericho Way Day Resource Center for homeless people is funded by both Little Rock and North Little Rock.

With more than $2 million of the grants, the Little Rock Community Mental Health Center provides partial rental assistance for about 200 homeless and disabled people.

The center also has medical personnel in-house, treating physical and mental disabilities and providing medication for those who need it, said Rosa Porter, director of housing and residential support.

Our House runs two programs for about $200,000 in grant money: family housing and transitions. Family housing places people in a community apartment building on Our House’s southeast Little Rock campus. The transitions program helps provide job training and other services to help Our House clients eventually move out on their own.

“Both programs are consistently full,” said executive director Georgia Mjartan, “which is tragic because it shows just how great the need is.”

The programs help a combined few dozen people at any given time and are longer-term.

People like Snell are asked to stay at least six months in the housing program, ideally longer, Mjartan said.

They’re also required to save 75 percent of their earnings to help them invest in longer-term stability once they leave.

Stability is what Snell has always wanted for herself and her family.

In December 2012, Snell moved from Sherwood to Maumelle to a new apartment complex she thought might be a better, more stable environment for her family. The move quickly became too hard on her family emotionally and financially.

Snell’s children were making friends with people she didn’t approve of, and she wasn’t keeping up with her bills, she said. She didn’t have a steady job. Her youngest child was in and out of the hospital with sickle-cell anemia.

Only a few months after moving in, Snell was asked to move out of her apartment, she said.

After nights in hotels, her car and a friend’s house, Snell went to Our House in January at the encouragement of her church, Full Council Christian Fellowship in North Little Rock.

“There were days when I thought, ‘Boy, I just really wish my life would end,’” she said, adding that she never considered harming herself.

Now she has fairly structured mornings of work training and a place to lie her head every night.

Snell thinks she can get on her feet, and she hopes her children will prosper.

Snell lives in family housing with two of her six children. Three are grown and living on their own and a fourth – who lived with her last year – is living with a friend.

The goal is to take Snell and her three youngest children out of the homeless head count in Little Rock.

Just a few months ago, a Housing and Urban Development survey revealed a 359-person decrease in the number of people who were homeless in 2013 versus 2010 in Little Rock.

Mjartan and Porter said they haven’t seen significant decreases in the number of homeless people in the area during the past few years, but Mjartan notes that her organization has been able to serve more people in recent years because of increases in private donations.

In general, Mjartan isn’t sold on the results of the survey.

She said the head count was taken on a bad weather night in January last year and that she’s not sure all of the head count volunteers canvassed the areas they had signed up to do.

Overall, according to the survey, Little Rock and Delta Hills experienced decreases of 25 percent and 73 percent in the homeless population from 2010 to 2013 while Arkansas overall jumped 38 percent from 2,762 homeless people counted in 2010 to 3,812 homeless people counted in 2013.

Arkansas, Pages 7 on 04/14/2014

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