By David Liebler.
Melissa Sierra had hit “rock bottom.” She had lost her job and home, and was out of money. Life was becoming increasingly difficult for Sierra and her six children. That’s when she turned to San Bernardino County for help and was referred to a collaborative program that provides rapid re-housing assistance to CalWORKs-eligible homeless families with children.
“Things went so smooth and so fast,” she said in reference to the assistance she received. Now Sierra has a stable place to live and is working two jobs. She smiles when talking about the difference she sees in her children. “I feel so blessed. Now we have a home. It’s a great feeling to be back on your feet.”
Sierra’s turnaround is the result of the Housing Support Program — a collaborative effort between the County’s Transitional Assistance Department, the Housing Authority and a local nonprofit called Knowledge and Education for Your Success (KEYS).
Rather than just provide housing options, the program works to get to the root of why a family is homeless. An individualized service plan is drawn up within 24 hours, identifying a family’s strengths and barriers to determine the quickest and most efficient way to permanently house the family and maintain stability.
“The KEYS relationship with the County’s Transitional Assistance Department is incredibly unique. We have the ability to have KEYS staff in the office so when the customer comes in, we are there to answer the questions, to find out what the family is capable of,” explained Dawn Spencer, a KEYS Housing Support Program Supervisor. “Sometimes families come in and they aren’t aware of their capabilities; we are there to help them realize them and connect them with people who can help them grow those capabilities.”
The KEYS navigator is there to help the family assess what barriers they are experiencing in locating housing and what barriers they may have to maintain housing. “We help them find ways to break through those barriers,” Spencer said.
But housing is not the only barrier that families run into, she added. They may come to you with a housing issue but what you find is the need may be employment, mental health, child care or transportation. “We need to make sure we connect them with everything that will help them be stable.”
And you only need to sit down with the families the program has helped to immediately see its positive impacts.
Justus Brown, who has five children, was homeless and living out of a hotel before she entered the program. Now she talks about the stability and order the program has brought to her life. “I feel a whole lot more stability. Because of all the things she was able to assist me with, I now feel like I am a tiny bit ahead and there’s a weight off my shoulders.”
“It’s confusing when you are out of a home,” Brown said when discussing her children. “They aren’t understanding why we are moving from one place directly into another. There are a lot of questions.”
The stories told by Sierra and Brown are not unique. “There are so many families in San Bernardino County that need the support and connection to services in order to continue to move forward,” Spencer said.
Brown smiles when she talks about how having a home has changed her children’s lives. “They are happier — yeah, definitely more happier. They are overjoyed and grateful for their own space.”
“We’re committed to this partnership, and we’re committed to providing the resources our families need in order to be successful through this program,” said Maria Razo, Executive Director of the San Bernardino County Housing Authority. “And we are very proud we were able to come together and now have successful outcomes for our families.”
This San Bernardino County program is a recipient of a 2017 CSAC Challenge Award, which spotlights the most innovative programs in county government. The Call for Entries for the 2018 awards is now open, but all entries must be postmarked by this Friday (June 22).