Nonprofit works to help homeless families find stability

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two years ago, PLM Families Together provided emergency housing for homeless families at 33 Raleigh apartments it owned and leased.

But the nonprofit found that, even though its program was intended to provide short-term housing for families in crisis, they tended to settle in rather than working aggressively to “move on to their own permanent place,” says Beth Bordeaux, executive director of the nonprofit.

Short-term housing creates more of a “home-like” environment than many homeless families have been used to, and it becomes easy to begin to build their lives around the “illusion” of a sense of stability and in the process lose a “sense of urgency,” she says.

“The sense of urgency is what’s necessary to make change happen,” she says. “We want  that stability to start when people are in their own place, not our place.”

To help keep its client families motivated to rebuild their lives, she says, PLM Families Together decided a year ago to reduce the number of apartments it used for emergency housing and expand its program by providing “rehousing” services.

Those services, consisting of financial support and intensive case management support, are designed to get families out of emergency housing  and into their own apartments.

The new strategy, launched in February, has begun to show results: In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the agency moved roughly 70 families into permanent housing, up from 57 families a year earlier.

“One of the difficulties that families have is dealing with those initial expenses of moving in,” Bordeaux says.

“The families we work with all have income,” she says. “Most of them are working families. They’re at a place or close to a place where they can afford to live in an apartment they lease themselves.”

But they typically experience an “event,” such as the loss of a job or a car, a medical issue, or even the loss of an apartment because a landlord ran into financial difficulty, she says, that “pushes them over the edge” and leaves them homeless.

PLM Families Services still owns eight apartments, including six for families and two it uses for offices, and leases another four apartments.

And it provides financial support to help families move out of its short-term housing and into their own apartments, plus rent for the first few months in their new apartments, as well as case management services for a year.

Those services include meetings at least once a week, at least initially, and assistance in creating and following a household budget; determining how big an apartment the family needs and can afford; reviewing the lease; and meeting and learning how to work with a landlord.

A mentor advocate from the agency also attends the lease signing to provide any support or information the family may need.

Operating with an annual budget of $800,000 and a staff of seven people, plus volunteer interns from schools of social work at Triangle universities, PLM Families Together over the past three years has reduced to 50 percent from 60 percent the share of its funding from government, and aims to reduce it even more this year, with the remainder coming from private support.

This year, it raised $130,000 in its first-ever annual campaign.

And on October 24, it will host a fundraising dinner and evening of jazz at the Brownstone DoubleTree on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The event last year raised roughly $100,000.

“Government money is not always going to be stable money,” Bordeaux says. “It’s also good business to have a diversified funding stream.”

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