Thursday, April 10, 2008

Grant would fund permanent housing for Laurel homeless

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Seven of Laurel’s chronically homeless people could be placed in permanent housing by the end of this year thanks to a $160,000 yearly federal grant.

Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services, a nonprofit that serves homeless and low-income residents in the greater Laurel area, expects to receive the funding by July, LARS Executive Director Nancy Graham said.

The grant was part of $3.9 million the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded in January to 11 private and county-sponsored homeless and housing programs in Prince George’s County. Renewable every two years, the grant will pay for the rent on seven individual housing units. To qualify, an individual has to be referred to LARS.

After moving into a unit, a tenant in the permanent-housing program may live there indefinitely, Graham said.

HUD defines a chronically homeless person as an adult with a disability that has resulted from substance abuse or physical or mental illness. The adult would have to be on the street or in an emergency shelter for an entire year or four different times over three years.

Although statistics can be difficult to track, Donny Phillips, LARS director of emergency and homeless services, estimates that there are 20 to 30 chronically homeless people in Laurel.

Tim Jansen, executive director of Hyattsville-based Community Crisis Services, which provides emergency services for the county’s homeless, said Laurel’s number of homeless is on par with other comparably sized cities.

The seven units have not yet been selected, but they will most likely be spread throughout the city, Graham said. She expects some outcry from neighbors once the locations have been determined.

Laurel City Council President Frederick Smalls (Ward 2) said the city could act as a mediator if neighbors object.

‘‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the city will work with LARS on this housing effort,” he said. ‘‘Where people may have an issue with it, we’ll work with both sides to make it a smooth transition.”

Some local church congregations have discussed renting church-owned properties to LARS, Graham said.

LARS’ permanent housing program will be the only such program in northern Prince George’s, said Karyn Lynch, director of the county’s department of social services.

LARS currently provides 10 transitional housing units for families, all of which are occupied. Families can stay in those units for up to 24 months.

The grant will also pay for a full-time case manager, who will work with the placed individuals on life skills and rehabilitation and bus transportation to get the individuals to and from job interviews and medical and psychiatric appointments.

Local congregations have agreed to assist with food, furniture and clothing.

Graham said the provision of permanent housing creates stability for the individual, which makes rehabilitation easier.

‘‘You’ll have seven very difficult, chronically homeless people that will be immediately off the streets,” Graham said. ‘‘Before, people were saying you have to fix them before you put them in housing, and with this model, you take them, put them in housing and you then help them to fix their problems.”

Victoria Tyson, executive director of Reality House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation halfway house in Laurel, said many of her clients have problems trying to rehabilitate themselves while not in permanent living situations. After clients leave the halfway house, Reality tries to find them permanent housing.

‘‘If they don’t, they get pulled into the same problems,” she said.

Without the stress of having to work to pay rent, individuals could focus on rehabilitation and vocational training, she said.