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New Transitional Housing Unit Opens in Baltimore

To better serve the homeless families of Central Maryland, Baptist Family has opened a second transitional housing unit. For many years, the agency has operated one very busy unit in Ellicott City.

Transitional housing is a way of keeping families safe and together during a severe housing crisis. Highly motivated families, referred to Baptist Family from churches or shelters, move into a stable and safe apartment or home for a period of up to two years.
According to a study published by the Urban Institute, there are over 7,000 transitional housing programs in America. These programs offer 220,000 beds.

There is a renewed focus on the problem of homelessness in Baltimore. The Open Society Institute, citing the 2007 Baltimore City Homeless Census, reports that there are more than 3,000 homeless residents of the city, with women and children making up an increasing proportion of that total.

Baltimore City, following a model of service called “Housing First,” has begun a ten-year plan to end homelessness. The city is using federal and local funds to offer affordable leases and public services to the chronically homeless. The Housing First model stresses that a homeless family’s housing crisis must be resolved before any other substantive and permanent work can be done.

Baptist Family is collaborating in this effort by bringing private funds and Christian service to bear on the problem. Beginning in early April 2008, a family will reside in a comfortable, two-story duplex home in the Pen Lucy neighborhood of Baltimore City. While living in this transitional home, the family will receive constant support from a Baptist Family staff member assigned to their case and from a group of local church and community leaders and volunteers recruited to help. This group of volunteers is known as a “wraparound team.”

Applicant families are currently being evaluated to find the best fit, and client confidentiality is strictly guarded, so we cannot say much about the individual family that will be served through this program. However, the Urban Institute study referenced above also includes some national averages that paint a picture of the typical homeless family served in transitional housing.

Most families come into transitional housing from emergency shelters. More than a third are supported by a family member working full-time, and over half have full- or part-time workers. These working homeless may be victims of the rapid rise in “Median Gross Rent,” a Census Bureau figure that tracks rent levels across the country. In the first half of this decade, the average rent rose 33.9%, while average household incomes rose only 7.9%. This disparity may push families from the “working poor” category into a new one: the “working homeless.”

More than two-thirds of these families are receiving food stamps, and more than half are Medicaid beneficiaries. More than a third have a history of alcohol or substance abuse (though almost all transitional housing programs, including Baptist Family’s) require that family members be free of current substance dependencies.

Transitional housing is, on average, a very successful form of treatment. Only four percent of families go back to homelessness after spending time in a transitional housing program. This is likely due to the types of complimentary services that programs provide to the families in their care. For a homeless family, employment training and counseling are perhaps obvious needs. Life skills education and financial planning and management are also areas of real need.

Transitional housing is a very resource-intensive way to serve people in extreme crisis. Baptist Family is using only private funds to pay for this work. The house in Pen Lucy was donated by a very generous anonymous donor. On March 2nd, the agency held an open (and empty) house, where further donors were invited to tour the facility and make pledges to furnish the new home. Donors strolled through the house, and funding and pledges were given for everyday items from welcome mats to telephones and silverware.

Also assisting in the project is a two-year, $100,000 grant awarded to Baptist Family by the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation. The Weinberg Foundation is focused on funding initiatives that serve the poor in several regions of the country, including Baltimore. Baptist Family expects to be able to report many great outcomes because of this generous support.