“The majority of families who are homeless are homeless one time, and use homeless services one time.” That statement Tuesday from Dr. Brett Kloos, associate professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, summed up the results of recent research conducted by Kloos and others at USC, and laid the groundwork for the launch of a new initiative with a bold goal.
The mission for Homeless No More is simple: to end family homelessness in the Midlands. “Family homelessness is different,” said Cathy Monetti, a Homeless No More board member. “It’s not a chronic problem.”
The numbers from the USC study prove her right. Kloos and his team found that 4,113 people used family homeless services in Richland County from 2004 through 2015. Of those people, 82 percent used the services only once, and just four percent used the services three times or more. The study focused on the Midlands because, as Homeless No More CEO Lila Anna Sauls explained, “We knew we couldn’t just do anything that was going to work in another place. It had to be here, based on information here.”
Homeless No More was formerly known as the Trinity Housing Corporation. The refocused and rebranded organization will now serve as an umbrella organization for emergency services, transitional housing, and permanent affordable housing for families, and serve as a community bridge for the many organizations which exist to help families.
“Columbia is too small of a town for not working together,” Sauls said. “We would be fools to think we can do this by ourselves.” The effort to bring the various organizations together will begin with a summit planned for May 31.
Homeless No More is the parent organization of St. Lawrence Place, a nonprofit offering temporary housing and other services to homeless families in the Midlands since 1989. The lessons learned through the work of St. Lawrence Place will be a key component of the effort to end family homelessness. “The proven success of this approach in serving families in our community is reason enough to believe our bigger goal is possible,” said Homeless No More Board Chair Walker McKay. “In fact, 95 percent of the families served in our transitional housing at St. Lawrence Place get the help and support needed to get jobs, manage their finances and become self-sustaining.”
The study results along with the new name and focus for Homeless No More were announced Tuesday at an event hosted by the Sisters of Charity Foundation. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was on hand to support the new effort, along with Columbia City Council members Tameika Isaac Devine and Howard Duvall. Duvall has volunteered at St. Lawrence Place for decades, Sauls said.
Several St. Lawrence Place alumni came, to share the message that sterotypes of the homeless are often simply wrong, and that homeless families are not homeless because they are lazy or do not want to work.”For many people, there’s a crisis” which leads to homelessness, Kloos said. The faces of family homelessness include people like Jeanette White, who became homeless after taking her children away from an abusive relationship.White received help from St. Lawrence Place, and has since earned her nursing degree and become a homeowner. The goal for Homeless No More is to see more happy endings like White’s.
“We want to get [homeless families] back to their normal circumstances or better as quickly as possible,” McKay said. St. Lawrence Place currently owns 11 homes in the Midlands and uses them to provide transitional housing, but as McKay explained, there are enough homeless families to fill 5,00 homes.
“We’re focused on buying existing homes or building new ones in areas that offer better schools and better opportunities for our families,” McKay added. He also shared the story of the reaction when the results of the USC study arrived. Sauls suggested that the group then known as Trinity Housing should do more to help homeless families. Someone in the meeting asked why they should do more, and as McKay explained, Sauls’ reply was the beginning of the refocused mission. Her answer? “Because we have to.”
Featured Image: Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Homeless No More CEO Lila Anna Sauls