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2000 Best Practice Awards

Best of the Best Winners: Ohio

Best Practice: Volunteers of America Crossroads

Programs at Emergency Shelter Break Cycle of Homelessness

Sandusky, Ohio. The Volunteers of America Crossroads program in Ohio helps homeless individuals and families obtain and maintain appropriate permanent housing. The organization operates an emergency shelter for homeless individuals in Sandusky and a transitional housing program for homeless veterans, individuals and families. Homeless individuals begin their stabilization phase in the emergency shelter, which is designed to provide a home for up to 30 days. Supportive services are introduced to the program participant in the shelter, and the assessment period begins in order to assist participants in developing a plan for

Photo of Sue Reamsnyder and Carolyn Martin-Giman receiving award from Secretary Cuomo & Deputy Secretary Ramirez
Sue Reamsnyder and Carolyn Martin-Giman receiving Best of the Best award from Secretary Cuomo (l) and Deputy Secretary Ramirez (r)

self-sufficiency that meets their individual goals.

The Volunteers of America Crossroads program became a reality when the Erie County Interagency Group developed a continuum of care model to fill local gaps in the system. The group determined that there was a need for longer term housing for the under served and vulnerable homeless individuals and families. VOA operated the only homeless and low-income housing project for the City of Sandusky. This facility was located in the heart of downtown development and was scheduled to be demolished. The community faced the potential of losing all beds dedicated to serve the homeless. Crossroads was developed to address the need for transitional housing in the community and replace the emergency shelter scheduled for demolition.

There are several external partners that were significant to the development of Crossroads. HUD provided acquisition and operating funds, the city of Sandusky worked in conjunction with VOA to secure an appropriate facility location, provide financial assistance, support zoning issues and help in the renovation phase. The Ohio Department of Development provided technical assistance in applying for project re-sources, and provided program design assistance. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided financial assistance for acquisition and renovation of the facility to assist the homeless veterans.

They also provided a grant and a per diem component. WalMart sponsored a “Charity Day” on behalf of VOA contributing a portion of their profits as financial support to Crossroads to be used for obtaining necessary household items needed to begin occupancy of the facility. In addition, several foundations contributed to the effort.

Since the program became fully operational in January 2000, 95 percent of the participants have gained employment, 33 percent are participating in substance abuse and/or mental health counseling, and 50 percent have moved to permanent housing.

“The most important aspect of our program is that we have a “one-stop shop” so that clients can get housing and supportive services under one roof,” says Susan Reamsnyder, executive director of Volunteers of America Crossroads. On-site services, such as case management, health care, drug and alcohol counseling, HIV/AIDS educational training, money management training and mental health case management, assist individuals in developing their self-sufficiency plan. Participants move through a series of tiers designed to break the cycle of homelessness and help them develop skills necessary to secure permanent housing.

For the well-being of the participants, the emergency facility is staffed daily around the clock. The 1,500-square-foot building was renovated to include 2 dormitory style rooms with 16 beds, 31 individual rooms, 6 units for families and a common space for both individuals and families. In addition, the facility has a fully operational kitchen, bathroom facilities for families and individuals, and two laundry rooms. On-site medical assistance is provided by the local health department, and on-site case management, pay phones and access to computers are available, as well as a large outdoor play area for children.

Participants are encouraged to write an autobiography as a basis for making life improvements. Staff members provide assistance through a predesigned outline. Once an assessment is completed, the participant and a case manager design an individual service plan with goals and action steps to accomplish the desired goals. In addition, a monthly budget sheet is incorporated into the service plan so that the participant can develop life management skills.

“One of the things we do is give dignity to unfortunate individuals,” says Reamsnyder. “We provide a good clean environment. Because of this, the residents start feeling better about themselves, and they do what they have to do to break the whole cycle of homelessness.”
Contact: Sue Reamsnyder, Phone: (416) 621-9060
Tracking Number: 314
Winning Category: Program (Community Planning and Development)

Best Practice: Better Housing League, Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program

Emergency Mortgage Assistance Helps Low-Income Homeowners Pay the Bills

For too many low-income in Cincinnati, the dream of owning their home can turn into the nightmare of losing it due to job loss, disability and other emergencies. The Emergency Mortgage Assistance (EMA) Program of the Better Housing League is ensuring that low-income families who secure a house are able to keep it. “You need to retain homeownership as much as you need to acquire it,” says Dot Christenson of the Better Housing League.

The EMA program, which is modeled after the former HUD/Federal Housing Administration Loan Assignment Program and the Pennsylvania Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, is a pilot initiative that provides grants and homeownership counseling to very low-income households. Low-income Greater Cincinnati homeowners facing foreclosure due to job loss, illness, death of the primary wage earner or other circumstances beyond their control can receive special assistance to bring their mortgage loan current if they have reestablished an income stream to continue future mortgage payments.

Since the program began in April 1997, 144 low-income households have avoided foreclosure. Of the families tracked 12 months after receiving a grant, 82 percent have been successful in maintaining regular mortgage payments.

Without the EMA program, low-income families have little recourse to prevent foreclosure on their defaulted mortgages, regardless of the circumstances. Better Housing League counselors work with lenders to negotiate realistic repayment or forbearance agreements.

One family of nine helped by the program includes a disabled veteran husband, wife and seven children who had lived in their house for 11 years. The wife, who provided the primary income, lost her job and gained another that did not pay as well. On the brink of losing their home, the husband and wife contemplated sending their children away to live with relatives while they moved into a homeless shelter. Eighteen months after receiving assistance through the EMA program, however, the family is only one month behind on its mortgage loan payments.

There are many such stories of families saved from foreclosure. As a result, support for the program is great, and its clients recently testified on its behalf before the city council.

Although gratitude and support for the program are high, the costs are relatively low—averaging about $280 per client—making the program a sound investment. “It’s cost-effective and it’s good public policy,” says Christenson.

For the program’s success in helping low-income homeowners retain their homes, the Better Housing League and its EMA Program are being honored with the Governor’s Award for Creative Programming in Housing.

Contact: Dot Christenson, Phone: (513) 721-6855
Tracking Number: 1968
Winning Category: Program (Housing - Single Family)

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Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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