Can you even begin to imagine being homeless for longer than a year or more than 4 times in the past 3 years- sleeping in cars, sleeping under bridges, eating food from a garbage can, wearing dirty clothes day in and day out, being constantly looked at with scorn and disappointment, having your family expect you to "fail" again? Can you imagine having a disability that prevented you from getting a job, an apartment, a normal life? This is the unfortunate situation in which many First Light guests all too often find themselves.
First Light offers two HUD funded permanent supportive housing programs for the chronically homeless, allowing them to obtain something they previously thought out of reach- a HOME. One we call "Bessemer HUD" where ten apartment units are provided to shelter guests who qualify for this program because they were chronically homeless. The second program is referred to as "HUD East" because we place 15 participants in apartments in the eastern section of the metropolitan area.
The grant pays for rent and it provides for a portion of the salary of a Permanent Supportive Housing Social Worker -- two different staff social workers dedicated strictly to each group of women. We searched diligently to find two apartment communities willing to work with First Light because they saw the value and the huge impact such programs can have improving lives.
The thrill of walking into an apartment that has been fully stocked by strangers! Do you know what a huge step it is for a person who has been living in and out of shelters for several years to reach this new incredible point in life? To NOT stand in line for coffee in the morning? To fry an egg in one's own kitchen again? To sit on one's couch and not lose the seat if you leave the room for a minute? To lie in a new bed at night with new linens and fluffy pillows? This is one the most profound experiences these individuals will have had in a long time.
The Social Worker assists each of these program participants as they search for a job closer to their new apartment; learn the bus routes; sign up for water and power bills. She stays in constant contact to help the participants stay on target with their goals…if they cannot work they must find volunteer opportunities; they must pay with their bills; they have to attend support groups if there is a history of substance abuse. This is about bolstering their sense of pride by first providing housing and then BEING THERE for them to stay on track for success.
Do these people pay anything for their apartments?
Yes. HUD requires that the individuals in the program pay a certain percentage of their income back to the sponsoring agency, First Light. A grace period of up to 3 months is allowed during which the participants can get their finances in order. Keep in mind that most of these individuals have not paid rent for many years- because they have been homeless for a long time. Each case is handled according to the individual's ability to work, volunteer or whether they receive any income.
Do these people have jobs?
If they can work, participants are required to maintain full or part-time employment or volunteer at a local helping agency. Many have disabilities and are unable to work...which is most likely what lead to their remaining homeless for so long or so frequently.