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Home for the Holidays effort brings crowd

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Article by: The Dominion Post
Agencies come up with list of 15 to 20 potential tenants
It was standing room only in the Monongalia County Commission chamber Friday morning as some 50 people gathered around an ambitious goal — getting the homeless into housing by Christmas.

The effort, dubbed Home for the Holidays, has set out to place as many as 15 individuals or households into housing using rent assistance and case management provided by the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness and assistance of all kinds by everybody else — be it locating furniture or stocking the fridge.

A dozen or more social service agencies and nonprofits were represented, as were addiction and recovery services, downtown business owners, various law enforcement agencies, Morgantown City Council, the Monongalia County Commission and, maybe most importantly, landlords.

The effort was spearheaded by Rachael Coen of WVCEH and Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom.

“I’m in awe,” Bloom said of the crowd. “I can do certain things, but I can’t do them without you. I look around this room … we’re going to get this freaking thing done.”

By the end of the meeting, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, there were commitments for eight apartments from various property owners and a list of 15-20 potential tenants compiled by representatives of the social service agencies.

Additionally, Alexis McMillen, of the Community Housing Action Partnership, said a subgroup that included city councilors, law enforcement and business owners identified four areas of focus:

Identifying who is actually homeless or at risk of being homeless versus those simply loitering downtown.
Engaging in a concerted, strategic public relations campaign aimed at informing the public on issues like panhandling as well as addressing the perception of the city’s downtown and misconceptions about people who are struggling with homelessness.
The identification of people who have or are experiencing homelessness and are willing to be involved with the group.
The establishment of a work-today-get-paid-today program to incentivize participation in the work force.
Getting people employed or otherwise occupied is critical, Mike Alexander said. Otherwise, the apartment becomes a hangout spot and neighbors get annoyed.

Alexander is one of the property owners willing to make apartments available. He said that willingness is borne partly of a desire to help and partly because, “I have empty units and this is guaranteed rent.”

“I have rented to tenants before through social agencies. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, typically. This seems to have a bit more backing and more guarantees,” he said, later adding, “It’s pragmatic, but I also tend to have a soft heart for people. I like to give back to my community. I have limited ways I can do that, and this is one.”

Rent assistance through WVCEH can be provided for up to one year, but will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Ideally, the assistance will get a tenant into the apartment and continue while they work with case managers to become self-supported.

Coen said WVCEH also has funds available to cover any damages to the apartments.

All told, Bloom said, the various volunteers and agencies need to surround these individuals to create a personalized housing plan that will give them the best chance at success.

Morgantown Police Officer Matthew Starsick walks the beat downtown every day, giving him a unique perspective on the scope and complexity of the problems the group hopes to tackle.

Starsick said success is possible, but it’s going to take everyone pulling in the same direction.

“The only way we’re going to get this done is together,” he said.

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