Huntington House program gets grant to help fight homelessness

Rosella Stouder (left) and Dawn Zahm-Wilson coordinate and administer the Rapid Rehousing & Homeless Prevention Program (RRHP), which recently received additional funding to continue helping Huntington County residents from becoming homeless. The program is under the umbrella of Community and Family Services.
Rosella Stouder (left) and Dawn Zahm-Wilson coordinate and administer the Rapid Rehousing & Homeless Prevention Program (RRHP), which recently received additional funding to continue helping Huntington County residents from becoming homeless. The program is under the umbrella of Community and Family Services. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

A resource to Huntington County residents in danger of losing their homes is back up and running, after it got a shot in the arm in the form of grant funding to help prevent homelessness.

The Rapid Rehousing & Homeless Prevention Program (RRHP) is a program of Huntington House and jointly administered under the umbrella of Community and Family Services.

With the approval to receive $53,555 in funding, Huntington House Director Rosella Stouder says she wants to get the word out to help keep people from becoming evicted from their present dwelling or find them a new place to call home.

“We do shelter and recovery – Second Chance Recovery,” she explains. “It’s a substance abuse program. We started that in 2017.”
This will be the third year for the Rapid Rehousing & Homeless Prevention program, Stouder adds.

RRHP Program Coordinator Dawn Zahm-Wilson says it’s her job to keep people out of a homeless shelter by finding them a permanent place to live.
“The money will hopefully last until June 30, 2020, when our season ends,” she says. “Last year with a similar amount we were able to help 25 households.”

Zahm-Wilson reports RRHP was able to stop 12 evictions, and connected or reconnected utilities for 19 households, as well as various other payments for assistance.

“We can help with security deposits for rent or utilities, application fees, arrearages, reconnections, which allows us to do some things that the trustee’s office can’t do,” she explains, “so we try to work closely with them.”

To get help through RRHP, potential clients should first contact the trustee’s office in the township in which they currently reside and agencies such as Energy Assistance, Salvation Army and Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC). They will then bring their approval or denial forms with them when they apply for RRHP assistance.

“Our income restrictions are pretty low. We are at a 30 percent of the AMI, which is the median income for Huntington County. It only allows an individual to make $12,850 a year,” Zahm-Wilson notes. “We have a lot of Seniors that are on Social Security bringing in less than $700 a month, and they obviously would qualify.”

The household must have some sort of income – either through employment, child support, Social Security, disability or another form, Zahm-Wilson says. They would also need to have a disconnection notice or be facing eviction, she adds.

“One of the nice things about our program is that, such as when the trustee isn’t able to help, or the other agencies are not able to help once someone is disconnected, then we are able to help with the reconnection fees and the deposits, to help people to get their services reinstated,” she says. “It’s fairly unique to our program. The only other programs that could assist with those things would be unregulated programs, such as the churches, emergency fund or that type of thing.”

Clients who qualify for the RRHP program will sign a release of information form allowing the office to discuss their cases with other agencies that can assist in their situation and coordinate their benefits to do the best job for them.

Stouder says Zahm-Wilson has done a lot of the heavy-duty work in advance to set up benefits for the program’s clients.

“She has made the connection with landlords and community agencies so that everyone is working together to help the citizens of Huntington County,” she says. “One of the issues in Huntington has been finding homes for people when they are homeless and needing a home. That’s been difficult.”

Zahm-Wilson says the mission of the program is to help people “power through” the rough situations. And even if the funding for the RRHP program becomes exhausted, her office still has plenty of resources available year-round for those needing help.

“We are constantly doing resource and referral,” she says. “I am frequently seeing people to help them locate available housing and take phone calls every day from Section 8 people that need help with rent, and other types of referrals, too, like the trustee and the church sect, and such.”

Her office has also begun holding financial literacy classes in partnership with Lake City Bank, offering them twice per month on Tuesday evenings at 5:30 p.m. in the Community and Family Services offices.

The next class will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 22. The classes are free and open to everyone; those attending are asked to call the RRHP office at 224-6100 to reserve a spot.

Attendees who complete 80 percent of the classes offered can qualify for a special account and a line of credit that can build up their credit score and help them obtain a loan.

“It’s more than just handing out some assistance and saying, ‘Yes we will cover this bill.’ That helps for a moment,” Stouder says. “What Dawn is trying to do with this program could help for a lifetime.”

“We want to bring them out of the hopelessness and give them confidence,” Zahm-Wilson adds.

The Rapid Rehousing and Homeless Prevention program is located in the Community and Family Services offices at 1255 Engle St., Huntington. Zahm-Wilson can be reached at 224-6100 or by email at 44hp@comfam.org.