When the federal government responded to the recession in 2009 with funds to prevent the jobless from also becoming homeless, Pima County and the City of Tucson worked together to create one point of entry to provide an array of crucial services.
As the federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) comes to a close on June 30, the County’s and City’s Project Action has assisted more than 1,500 Pima County residents who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“We were hearing from people who had never needed help before,” said Program Coordinator Jane Kroesen. “People who had lost their jobs or whose hours had been cut so drastically that they couldn’t pay their rent.
“Keeping people in their homes is critical because homelessness often leads to poor nutrition and hygiene, school absences, and health issues. Once a family becomes homeless, it is extremely difficult and expensive to get them back into stable housing.”
Project Action’s clients were among Pima County’s most vulnerable residents, including single women with children, households with very young children, military veterans and the disabled. For example:
- When one working woman’s mother could no longer contribute to the family’s rent, the woman, her disabled husband and three teenage children were evicted. The two youngest teens went to live with a friend. The woman, her husband and the oldest teen lived in their car, which made it very difficult for the woman to continue working. Project Action quickly reunited the family in an apartment, the woman was soon able to return to full-time work and her husband was approved for disability benefits.
- One college-educated single mother began sleeping in her car with her pre-school twins and teenage son when a disabling illness kept her from working. Project Action helped her family into an apartment, which made it easier for her to receive a series of medical treatments. She successfully appealed the initial denial of disability benefits, which then allowed her to afford stable housing and exit the program.
Of those eligible for Project Action assistance, 95 percent achieved a stable living environment. More than 80 percent found affordable rental housing.
Project Action also created a tool that will continue to help all Pima County residents find affordable housing for sale or rent along with valuable information for tenants, homeowners and people interested in buying their own homes: www.pimacountyhousingsearch.org.
Pima County and the City of Tucson had partnered on projects in the past. But creating a seamless program with a common set of procedures and eligibility rules that individuals in need could access through one point of entry required intensive joint planning and bridging local and federal contracting and fund management systems. The collaborative effort included Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, CODAC Behavioral Health, Primavera Foundation, Money Management International, and Southern Arizona Legal Aid, which the City and County contracted with to provide direct services to Project Action clients.
Project Action created a web-based, single point of entry – www.pimacountyhelp.org – that allowed access by applicants, clients, case managers and partner agencies.
Individuals and families could determine preliminarily whether they were eligible for assistance by providing information through the website. Households without internet service could call a toll-free phone number. Project Action also accepted referrals from community organizations and employed a resource specialist who connected with food banks, medical agencies, school liaisons and other organizations in Pima County’s rural areas to identify and visit potential clients.
To be eligible for assistance, applicants needed to:
- Be a resident of Pima County for at least three months;
- Have less than $3,000 in their bank account;
- Have an eviction notice and written lease agreement;
- Have had a sudden or significant loss of income.
Once project staff determined a household’s eligibility, the individual or family could receive financial assistance for rental and utility payments, security and utility deposits, moving costs, motel/ hotel vouchers, and storage. Project participants were required to attend a two-hour financial education class with Money Management International and meet with a case manager monthly to check in on their housing stability and employment search. The case managers also worked with households to determine what services and benefits they were eligible for in the community outside of Project Action.
“Giving people financial assistance once is not enough,” Kroesen said. “People need help over a period of time to stabilize their lives. People need to get their finances in order. Shifting people’s thinking from spending to saving was a key goal of this program.”
Upon leaving the program, more than 95 percent of those who responded to a questionnaire said they had learned how to get help from community resources to avoid future crisis.
Participating agencies tracked services and expenditures, monitored recordkeeping and managed reports through a shared secured database.
Over the course of three years, the city of Tucson administered $2,534,340 and Pima County administered $1,063,430 in HPRP funds.
The National Association for County Community and Economic Development selected Project Action for its Annual Award of Excellence in the category of Homeless Coordination/Assistance in 2010 after evaluating its tangible results, innovation, sustainability and transferability.