Agency eyes permanent housing for homeless

Lisa Williams
Lisa Williams

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in July, is considering whether to add permanent housing to the services it provides to homeless families.

The agency has begun a planning process that could result in deciding to buy 10 to 12 housing units and launch a capital campaign to raise $1 million to $1.25 million to finance the new program.

Permanent housing would build on existing services at the agency, which in 2008 provided temporary shelter and support services to 67 families, including 81 parents and
130 children.

Demand for services is up because of the recession, says Lisa Williams, the agency’s executive director.

The agency also is seeing more unemployed families than it has in the past, and the parents in those families are taking longer to find jobs, requiring longer stays in the temporary shelter the agency provides.

“I believe this year we’ll serve fewer families and fewer individuals because they won’t be able to get through our program as quickly,” Williams says.

In screening families before accepting them in its program, the agency looks for parents who already are employed or have a strong history of employment.

The goal, Williams says, is for parents to be working within a few weeks of entering the temporary-shelter program.

Each night, two of the agency’s 35 host congregations each provide overnight space in their Sunday school rooms for up to five families, who stay 42 days on average.

During the day, Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network provides a home base for those families at a “day center” at its administrative offices at 903 Method Road in Raleigh.

Each family using the day center has access to a phone, fax machine, computer, bathroom, laundry facilities and the services of case managers who provide counseling, budgeting support and financial assistance.

Last August, the agency introduced a new after-care program that for one year after they graduate from its temporary program provides families with the same services they received while staying in its temporary shelter.

And now, Wake Interfaith Hospital Network will begin studying the possibility of providing permanent housing for families that graduate from its temporary-shelter program.

“We would like to purchase housing, and then rent it for a percentage of families’ income,” Williams says.

The agency expects soon to pick a consultant to advise it on its strategic planning, which could be completed in January or February.

Operating with an annual budget of just over $300,000 and a staff of three people working full-time and three working part-time, Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network also counts on 2,200 volunteers and 21 support congregations.

Contracts with federal, state and local agencies generate just over one-third of the agency’s budget, as do contributions from congregations and individuals, although church donations are down 9.5 percent this year because of the recession, Williams says.

Wake Interfaith Hospital Network has neither frozen nor reduced its staff, salaries or benefits, although pay raises this year were smaller than usual, she says.

“Our vision is to help families where services are limited in our area for homeless families,” she says, “and provide them with the tools and basic necessities to get back to independent living.”

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