Author Vera Beech is the Executive Director of Community Rebuilders. The non-profit agency, founded in 1993, is dedicated to ending homelessness and creating safe, affordable housing opportunities in Kent County, Michigan.
Many times I have heard homeless services providers talk about the reported 1-3% vacancy rates of apartments in our community. A 2015 Zillow article reported Grand Rapids, MI, had the nation’s lowest vacancy rate in 2015, coming in at 1.6%.
The Housing First model is strategy that aims to provide people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible and then providing other services as needed. The model is utilized by housing agencies in Kent County, who believe that this model is the key to ending homelessness in our community. Jesica Vail of the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness, Jeffrey King of Community Rebuilders, and Christina Soulard of Salvation Army Social Services join us in the GRTV studio to discuss homelessness in our community, explain the Housing First model, and describe the resources available in our community for those experiencing a housing crisis.
Community Rebuilders believes that the housing first approach is the key to ending homelessness in Kent County. Their services help people with disabilities, veterans, chronically homeless individuals and families, and people with HIV/AIDS find safe, affordable housing. Jeffrey King, Director of Advancement and Communications for Community Rebuilders, describes the housing first model, discusses these services, and explains how you can help support this work.
Vera Beech’s success in furthering the mission of Community Rebuilders and her extensive body of work in the nonprofit sector as a whole led to her selection as the winner of the Professional Achievement honor as part of the 2015 MiBiz Best-Managed Nonprofits Awards.
“First we want to continue to raise awareness that there is a need in our community. For example, last year we provided housing services to 249 veterans and this year we are on track to exceed that number,” said Jeffrey King, Director of Advancement and Communication for Community Rebuilders.
King said many of the people Community Rebuilders helps say they became homeless because of some sort of “financial strain.” The majority of homeless people are regarded as temporarily homeless. They previously had homes or apartments but something happened like losing a job, divorce or illness — everyday stress that can get a family evicted or a home foreclosed upon.
“We worked with the Grand Rapids Continuum of Care and Community Rebuilders to get 10 of the 12 homeless individuals living in North Camp housed within two months,” said Kelly Rose, director of rental assistance and homeless solutions at MSHDA. “Many of these people had been living at the site for years, so it really was a testament to Community Rebuilders to get over 80 percent housed this quickly.”
Here’s some more evidence that providing Housing First to homeless people works. As you may already be aware, between 2010 and 2013, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness on a single night in January decreased by 24 percent, going from 76,329 to 57,849. That reduction in veteran homelessness occurred in the midst of the Great Recession, an affordable housing crisis (which is still going on, by the way) and about 46.5 million people living in poverty.
The study, carried out by researchers at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, found that giving mentally ill homeless people financial help to secure free-market rental housing and mental health support services enhanced their chances of achieving stability.
In this week is Community Rebuilders, part of the Coalition to End Homelessness, as the beneficiary of Monday’s Hat Trick Concert. Executive director Vera Beech details the work of Community Rebuilders and their model, which has positioned them as a national model for getting people into homes.
“We were coping with homelessness by having people go to a mission or shelter. Now there is much more discussion about targeting the resources we have,” said Vera Beech, executive director of Community Rebuilders, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that connects homeless families with housing.
The program covered most of Williams’ rent for 6 months. Now she’s got her own place, a car, a part-time job as a caterer and she’s months away from completing her GED. Williams says she plans to go to college to get her associates degree after that.