January 10

Portland program to move 110 homeless into homes

The city’s new financial assistance program comes as the city’s homeless shelters are overflowing.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Next month, the city of Portland will roll out a financial assistance program aimed at moving 110 people from homeless shelters into permanent housing.

The new program comes as the city’s homeless shelters are overflowing, especially with families.

The City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee received a briefing on the Tenant Based Rental Assistance program on Wednesday night. The program would provide security deposits and short-term rental assistance for individuals and families residing in homeless shelters.

The average benefit would be $1,200 per client, according to a staff memo to the committee. The nearly $136,000 program is being funded through the federal HOME program, a grant program for communities and nonprofits to increase affordable housing and help low-income residents purchase or rent housing.

“Although I do not have an exact date, the plan is to launch the program in February,” housing director Mary Davis said in an email Wednesday.

The program is designed to replace the city’s Rapid Re-Housing Program, a two-year program funded by the American Recovery Act. That $876,000 program paid for seven full-time employees and provided rental assistance and support services.

The city’s Homelessness Prevention, Rapid Re-Housing Program helped provide stable housing to 1,306 people over the past two years, according to a report from the University of New England. It helped 72 individuals who had previously spent more than 500 nights at a shelter. Each received a median total benefit of $3,880 for an average of eight months.

It also provided assistance to 360 households, consisting of 997 individuals. Each household received an average of $1,831 in rental support and $460 in utility support over a two-month period on average.

For those who were previously homeless, the program freed up 75,730 bed nights at area shelters by providing about $600 a month in rental assistance security deposits for an average of four months, bridging the waiting period for long-term housing vouchers. City officials have attributed the rise in homelessness in Portland to the loss of the program in 2011.

For the first time, the city reported that more than 500 people on average sought emergency shelter each night in September. In October, that number dropped to 485 people and dropped further in November to 452.

Only 272 beds, cots and sleeping mats are available each night in the six shelters run by the city and nonprofit groups. When the shelters are full, 75 additional mats are placed in the Preble Street Resource Center to handle the overflow. When that is full, an additional 17 mats are placed in the city’s general assistance office. And when that is full, people in need must sit in chairs in the city’s refugee services office.

A Task force report on ways to prevent and end homelessness also called for the resuming that program, as well as creating new housing options for the chronically homeless.

The city took a step forward in that regard as well. The housing committee unanimously recommended spending $50,000 in HOME funds to help housing developers find a location for a new housing development with in-house counseling services and help identify development resources.

The city has not set a timeline for receiving its housing first proposals.

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