Friday, April 16–Fed Program Aims To Help Renters Out Of Work, Luck

WEST OCEAN CITY – Renters affected by the recession on the verge of losing their housing may qualify for a new assistance program, funded with federal stimulus funds, through Diakonia homeless shelter.

The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Project  (HPRP) works to stop the cycle of homelessness before it begins for renters who have lost their employment due to the recession.

“The whole intent is to stop those people who are precariously housed or extremely vulnerable from moving into the sheltering system,” said Diakonia Director Claudia Nagle.  “It’s not intended for the chronically homeless.”

The project provides financial assistance to keep people from losing their housing, or to get them back into housing as quickly as possible. People requesting assistance must show that they can sustain housing themselves.

The project is not a first line of defense and does not replace services from other agencies, Nagle said.

“It’s not to help the folks who are seasonally unemployed…it’s intended for people who are renters and it’s not assistance for homeowners necessarily,” Nagle said.

The program, which began a month ago, has been inundated with requests for help under the new program, receiving 24 inquiries on one day this week.

“The word has spread incredibly quickly,” Nagle said. “Obviously, we can’t help everyone.”

The program is for Worcester County residents only. To date, participants have come from across the county, not just Ocean City or the north end.

So far, HPRP has assisted 70 individuals and families in the month it has been operating, although not all of those helped have received funding. Some have been directed to county services and other agencies. Diakonia has also negotiated payment plans with landlords and utility companies.

Many participants in the program are referred through church programs and county social services.

A screening process requires those requesting assistance to provide financial, landlord, and employment information. The more quickly that information can be assembled, the more quickly people can receive help, which can take from a few days to a week.

“It’s not going to be, you come, you get a check, and you’re done,” Nagle said.

The project, which began at the end of February after a year spent pursuing the grant funds, should last 18 months.

Applicants can also access other services through Diakonia, such as counseling, or be connected with other resources.

Assistance is not the only aim of the project. HPRP is creating a database of local landlords, available properties, and rental prices for year round housing. That database will be made available to the general public in the future. At this point, there is no single source in the county to find information on year round housing.

In the future, Nagle said she would also like to offer participants budgeting and financial literacy classes.

“There’s some data collection and some understanding of the larger picture,” Nagle said.

The project wants to see which factors put people in the position of losing or coming close to losing their rented housing.

The population accessing the prevention and rehousing program has a different profile than that of the chronically homeless.

“Usually, they haven’t lost everything. They may still have some issues but they still have some resources left,” said Nagle. “They have a little more resiliency.”