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County Hall Corner: Help for Housing – Part 2

Last week this column reviewed the importance of the Lycoming County Housing Coalition, a network of some 15-20 agencies committed to helping those struggling with housing issues. Though there has been a healthy number of committed programs designed to help through the years, what was needed was the best approach to use the funds and resources to aid the most number of people in a way that would really assist them over the long-term. Two key programs have come about: the Lycoming County Supportive Housing Program (SHP) and the Master Leasing Program (MLP).

Imagine a single mother named Nadine who has a job and is paying her bills, getting along in life, but suddenly has a bump in the road. It may be an illness that causes her to miss work, or an unexpected major expense, or something that impacts her ability to pay her rent and utilities. She goes to one of the Housing Coalition partners, such as American Rescue Workers for instance, and relates her problem. They provide whatever assistance they can provide, but it is apparent that Nadine needs more help than ARW is capable of providing to get her over this bump, and this is what SHP is designed to do.

Nadine would be referred to the office of the Lycoming-Clinton Counties Commission for Community Action, Inc. (STEP), located at 2138 Lincoln Street in Williamsport for a referral. Her situation would fall under the SHP requirements, and she would enter what is termed a Tier 1, which is a program designed to provide service navigation assistance for those experiencing a short-term crisis. The goals would be to assist Nadine in developing a plan leading to stabilization, build foundational skills, and ultimately achieve long-term self-sufficiency. Financial assistance is provided, but conditional upon demonstrated improvements in stabilized housing, credit history improvement, life skills, health care, and substance abuse if there is any. Nadine would meet weekly with her caseworker to review these requirements, and the financial assistance is dependent upon her progress.

Obviously, this is not just a handout, but a hand-up. It is not designed for those who are facing eviction or those just trying to get out of their parent’s home or for those who have no sustainable income flow. It is a way to help individuals or families who were previously self-sufficient but have suffered a recent crisis, and have exhausted all other community resources (e.g., Lycoming County Assistance Office, Salvation Army, American Rescue Workers, etc.).

Tier 2 is an all-encompassing program, more designed around the long-term stability of the individual. The assistance could be longer, up to 18 months, but is designed for those with a wider variety of issues, such as possibly not having transportation to get to work or inability to pay for security deposits. Like the Tier 1, this is not an easy program to get through, and the programs are designed to ensure the best fit, to get people to a stable place in life.

The best news of all is that SHP really works! Some financial assistance is provided, generally for around six months, but it is combined with intense case management to ensure the long-term sustainability of housing and improved quality of life. The SHP has responded to 322 referrals in the last three years and is currently still actively working with 104.

The other program is the Master Leasing Program (MLP), which is administered out of the Transitional Living Center (TLC) as the lead agency. This program is designed for those tough cases, again referred by outside agencies, such as those who might have just come out of prison or perhaps serious substance abuse. TLC has fifteen rental units, and these are available in a very highly competitive process. The biggest part of this program is not just the housing, but the intensive management piece. It is designed to help an individual or head of a household to set up a budget, get needed mental or drug/alcohol counseling, and simply learn to maintain a home. The goal is to get them to live on their own after one year. They could then slide over to SHP in the transition.

The system is not perfect (no system is), but the great aspect of the Housing Coalition is the amazing cooperation between the county government and these independent agencies. It is a work in progress, but it is good progress.

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