From Our CEO: We Can't End Homelessness Without More Affordable Housing

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Update: Also ran in the February 14th Issue of the Greenville Journal. 

Tent City

Photo Credit: Mykal McEldowney, Greenville News

The conversation about homelessness in Greenville continues to be a forefront topic. The 5-part series in the Greenville News, published in November, ignited passions on all sides. Much has happened as a result and like most things associated with passion, some has been good, some bad.

Additionally, many experts have weighed in on the issue and are uniquely qualified to address it head-on. They’ve earned that from working on the front lines, in the trenches, for years.

As the CEO of a non-profit affordable housing developer, I thought it appropriate to comment on the issue from a different angle however, as we are not in exactly the same trenches of this war, even though we fight on the same side, and definitely in a coordinated effort.

At Homes of Hope we develop housing for workforce families who are unable to afford the market pricing of market quality housing. Without our housing, and others like it aptly developed by the other non-profit affordable housing organizations in Greenville, our families and individuals are left with choices of substandard housing lacking energy efficiency, or market quality housing at prices exceeding 50% of their incomes.

The first choice often results in poor conditions for families to raise their children in, even sometimes to the extreme of living in fear of danger. At the least, they live in a socio-economic sink hole with little hope of something better. Poor lifestyle choices are sometimes made as a result of this environment, but in either case, hopelessness and despair almost always result.

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Workforce families unable to afford market rate housing often find dilapidated housing as one of the few options available to them

The second choice leads to cost burdened family budgets, which create similar results from a different angle. In the end, hopelessness and despair still lives there.

Our four-fold housing strategy includes one part that addresses homelessness, but at the end, not at the beginning. We call this part “being the permanent housing solution for homeless service providers.

Partnering with several agencies in Greenville and Anderson, we designate a good portion of our permanent rental housing (both existing stock and a percentage of our new houses constructed annually) to families and individuals who are graduates of the excellent programs these agencies employ.

We do this because we believe in the excellence of these agencies’ work, but more importantly we believe in the people emerging from these programs. When the emergency of homelessness is addressed through shelters and transitional housing programs, families can move forward equipped for success with tools on their workbenches that weren’t there before. A new opportunity awaits for them to tackle their situations with the skills learned within these programs.

That’s where this part of our four-fold strategy emerged. We recognized years ago that often times the only option waiting for the families was transitional housing- temporary help applied to a permanent need.

To be clear, this was not the fault of these great agencies. It was a flaw in the HUD system at the time, which sometimes mandated this transitional option as the only one they would fund. This has changed now, but our strategy piece was born anyway, and the need hasn’t gone away.

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Current homes under-construction slated for graduate families of our partner agency, GAIHN

Now, when a homeless service provider has a family or individual who is ready to re-enter the community, we are eager to partner with them. But our permanent housing solution doesn’t stop there. We continue the care. Our Client Development team builds a new relationship with the family or individual and builds upon the success they’ve already achieved.

Our rental housing participants are encouraged to pursue home ownership at some point, if it is mutually decided that home ownership is the best option for them. One of the parts of this strategy that I like the best however is that if it is agreed upon that renting is their best option, we’re okay with that! We don’t push them into the “American dream” if it’s going to result in an “American nightmare!”

There are other forms of support we can offer and we strive to provide these while maintaining a relationship of trust. Financial wellness training is one of these, life skills training, job training, and even educational opportunities are offered in partnership with other agencies.

It is our goal that our “permanent housing solution for homeless service providers” is healthy and indeed permanent. Not permanent in terms of making families stay in our housing, but permanent in terms of not making them leave.

So, what is our charge to you, the reader, from our perspective on the homeless conversation already happening? Support our work, but also the homeless service providers. Specifically enable and encourage them to produce more shelters and transitional housing, and encourage them to partner with us for quality permanent and energy efficient housing that has this element of the continuum of care to it.

Bobby Thompson, 4 Queen Alley

Bobby Thompson, formerly homeless for six years, transitioned to our rental program from partner agency Triune Mercy Center

HUD funds are not NEARLY enough! And the days of depending on the government for these solutions are over. Let’s not shrink from this problem! Let’s take the little the government does give, and leverage it with community dollars to do MORE with LESS. Private sector investment is crucial. Business benefits when the community is healthier, so businesses need to invest. And Homes of Hope, like several other organizations in the Upstate, can also offer tax credits to pair with tax deductions for donations toward this cause. In some cases, we can even offer returns on investment, not just a charitable receipt.

We can’t end homelessness by ourselves, and we can’t end it without more affordable housing—from the shelter, to transitional, to permanent. We need support from the community—both corporate support and individual support.

Many people who live under bridges do so because they simply can’t afford housing. And long-term partnerships like our strategy are the best way to address inadequate income and other issues—within a housing continuum of care model. We can always debate the other issues from someplace warmer than under a bridge—like a living room.

Want to learn more? Contact Homes of Hope CEO, Don Oglesby, for ways to get involved.

1 Comment

Excellent article and response to this on going problem.

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