New federal program seeks to provide homeless families with longer lasting housing solutions

Jun 30, 2014

Syracuse has the second highest number of homeless children in New York state outside of New York City, according to recent statistics. There are 957 homeless children in the city of Syracuse, 1,401 in all in Onondaga County. Now one organization that deals with that population is hoping a new program will help ease that number.

This is the time of year things start getting busy at local homeless shelters.  

Liddy Hintz, director of emergency and child welfare services at the Syracuse Salvation Army, says numbers go up after school is out, and families with children start looking for new housing.

"They will rise, June, July, August.  In the past, they’ve tapered off in September,” said Hintz. “They did not last fall. They stayed up right through December.”

Hintz says the biggest issue right now is finding decent low income housing for these families. The community has lost apartment complexes that handled this population in recent years, like Harrison Towers, Townsend Towers and Kennedy Square.

“None of them were replaced. Not that they were great housing. But they were housing. And we don’t have units like that anymore.”

Hintz also says many of these families have a hard time handling finances and often don’t have jobs to help pay the bills. She’s hoping a new program called the Housing Assistance and Life Skills Education can help. The federally funded program will focus on rapid rehousing for families, a concept that has proved successful in central New York and across the country.

"Rapid rehousing will allow us to stay connected to families between 12 and 24 months. Provide them with a subsidy, help them with life skills education and hopefully keep them out of the shelter.”

Hintz says her organization has tried rapid rehousing on a small scale.

“We have found that moving people out of shelter faster, and providing the supports after they leave, have provided a more stable and secure housing situation.”  

One example of a time when the follow-up support worked involved one mother who was worried about feeding her children when a landlord didn’t fix a broken stove.

“Our worker went out and bought a microwave and brought it to her house. And so then she could cook food for her kids. So a $25-50 expense allowed her to stay and not lose her security deposit, stay in the apartment, not come to a shelter. Thousands of dollars was saved by having that intervention right there.”  

Hintz says the subsidy will allow families to rent better apartments, and the education portion will focus on skills like how to handle a checking account or complain to a landlord.  She says the program will start in January.