Three once-homeless Columbia residents made the transition from public housing assistance to independent living this past month.
Its a move housing authority workers find encouraging but also sobering, as hundreds more await the chance to follow the same path.
Now, such efforts are getting a big boost, thanks to $700,000 in grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for new Midlands housing projects.
It comes as the Midlands continues to battle homelessness, which increased by 17 percent from 2009-11, according to the latest one-day count. A quarter of that increase was among families with children, while another 15 percent included those who were homeless for extended periods and nearly 20 percent more who were veterans.
The grant money will provide more housing for the homeless and others facing crisis situations as early as this summer.
Thats especially good news for the estimated 500 homeless seeking shelter locally. Until now theyve been put on a list with roughly 8,000 others awaiting public housing.
But the grants will allow their cases to be addressed separately.
The thing that I like about this particular grant is it is for permanent support of housing for the homeless, said Nancy Stoudenmire of the Columbia Housing Authority, which will receive the bulk of the funding about $550,000.
The authority will use the money to expand its Housing First Program, which is coordinated with the USC School of Medicine. Through the program, the authority locates and leases housing for homeless people with disabilities and provides them medical care, substance abuse and mental health counseling, job training and other services to help achieve independence.
Were taking people from the streets and getting them housing right away, said Stoudenmire, noting that 100 percent of the funds will go directly to rent payments or utility bills.
The Housing Authority expects to provide 28 additional permanent housing units for homeless individuals and families with chronic disabilities in city of Columbia and Richland and Lexington counties over three years.
Another $120,000 will pay for transitional housing for women with children at Nurture Home in Aiken. The remaining funds will pay for federally-required housing and database tracking services used by local agencies that serve the homeless.
HUDs annual Continuum of Care grants are awarded on a competitive basis to local programs that serve the homeless. The United Way of the Midlands and the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless coordinated and submitted the grants, but the contract was made directly with the Housing Authority, which is administering the funds.
Stoudenmire said an added benefit is that the Housing Authority can now help homeless families, noting past support had been limited to individuals. The Family Shelter will help identify those families.
Were seeing a lot of families who are out there and homeless, Stoudenmire said.
HUD recently awarded $1.47 billion nationally to renew funding to more than 7,100 existing local homeless programs across the U.S. The funding ensured that housing and service programs continued in 2012. In all, renewable grants in the Midlands totaled just more than $2.5 million.
United Way president and CEO Mac Bennett said the HUD grants will provide a much needed boost to the areas efforts to assist the homeless.
They mean new units of transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness and permanent homes for people working their way back up to being financially stable, Bennett said.
Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.