New city of Peoria program helps households on the brink of homelessness
A new program will use $936,000 in American Rescue Plan funding to help permanently house Peoria families on the precipice of homelessness.
The Flexible Housing Rental Assistance program is a result of the combined effort between the city of Peoria and Peoria County to determine the most effective use of remaining ARPA funds. Through this process, officials identified housing as a fundamental need and brought on the nonprofit Home for All Continuum of Care to help develop assistance programs.
Kate Green is the executive director of Home for All. She says the program targets a specific segment of Peoria’s population experiencing homelessness.
“Households that could use a lighter touch intervention, probably don't need ongoing case management services, but really just need to be able to get over a couple of barriers to exit homelessness and to do that rapidly,” she said. “And so that's where we're hoping this intervention can make a difference.”
Households like the one Green describes are eligible for assistance from nonprofits, but they often end up further down an “intake list.” They likely have some form of income, but may be behind on utility payments or unable to provide a safety deposit or first and last month’s rent.
“What we ask of all of our funded agencies is that they prioritize households based on the highest vulnerability,” Green said. “So at the very top of our list are individuals and households that are chronically homeless, facing multiple barriers, often have a disabling condition. Those are at the very top of what we call coordinated entry, our prioritization list.”
This structure means it can take some time to get to households with just a few needs left to cover. So, Green said programs like Flexible Housing Rental Assistance can help fill the gaps, adding these households are generally underserved in the community and this program could provide a model to improve.
“So, not only who are we serving now, but if we can reduce the amount of time that they’re experiencing homelessness,” Green said. “How can we create, kind of, better flow within our system so that we can eventually see that number kind of reduce?”
It’s a pressing need.
Green said, on any given day, around 400 Peoria households are looking for these resources. Additionally, what every household needs is different. Some of the commonly referenced examples of what the program could help with are utilities, either starting new utility service or paying old fees, first and last month’s rent and security deposits.
“We need every tool in the toolkit, that's for sure,” Green said. “And ultimately, what we'd like to do is to prevent homelessness in the first place.”
That includes partnerships with landlords, utility companies, a variety of local nonprofits, first responders and more. It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of different needs to address.
Because of the volume of work involved, city of Peoria Community Development Director Joe Dulin said his department will hire a new employee to work with households on a case-management basis.
“You really need someone dedicated to walking them through the different processes. Getting them to fill out forms. Working to identify what those barriers are,” he said. “It’s very staff intensive, which is why we feel we need a new position for this new program.”
Around $200,000 of the grant is expected to apply to administrative costs and hiring the new position, with the remaining $700,000 helping provide the services and resources necessary for the about 60 households.
In any given year, Green estimates her organization serves 1,500 individuals in the Greater Peoria area. She hopes the results of this new program provide the evidence to support expanding efforts. These results will include factors like average length of time homeless, returns to homelessness and levels of access to income and benefits.
“We're very excited, again, that both the county and city were open and willing to figure out: ‘is this a good program model?’” Green said. “And if so, we're hoping to bring more funding partners to the table to recreate it or to create new programs moving forward.”
You can find more information about Home for All Continuum of Care and their programs here.