Community Link launching effort for veterans’ families

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The 10-county region that includes Charlotte is home to an estimated 153,000 military veterans or more, and over 1,000 of them are homeless.

Over 25,000 of them are considered “very low income,” meaning their annual income in the region is $32,000 a year or less for a family of four, and nearly 3,100 of those families are at risk of becoming homeless.

Community Link, a Charlotte nonprofit that served nearly 11,800 people in the fiscal year ended June 30 with services in the areas of housing, home ownership education and counseling, and financial literacy, is launching a new program to assist homeless veterans.

With a $1.14 million grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency is launching a new program to assist the households of 200 veterans over the next year.

“They got deployed, many of them on multiple deployments, and they had to drop everything,” says Floyd R. Davis Jr., president and CEO of Community Link. “They had to leave jobs and families and homes.”

Now, as they return home, he says, veterans have to “rebuild their lives all over again.”

And while some have families that still are intact, he says, many are returning to “family structures that have fallen apart,” and are dealing with physical and particularly emotional wounds.

The initiative aims to get homeless veterans into housing quickly and to prevent them from becoming homeless through services that include financial subsidies for rent, child care, transportation, moving expenses and other costs needed for stable housing.

Families will be referred to Community Link by the Veterans Administration, veterans groups and other local nonprofits.

Moving veterans and their families quickly into housing, a strategy known as “rapid rehousing,” will focus on veterans who “have been able to access housing but have had difficulty maintaining it because of a lack of resources,” including both financial support and support services, Davis says.

Funds from the collaborative grant also support delivery of supportive services provided by three other nonprofits.

Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont will provide families with job training and readiness, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont will help them address legal challenges and issues, and Innovative Community Resources will work with them to secure payee benefits and disability claims.

“The idea is to wrap around all these services to create stability and growth for the veteran,” says Randall C. Hitt, chief advancement officer for Community Link.

Community Link is one six agencies in North Carolina serving roughly 30 counties that are getting federal funding to help veterans’ families address issues tied to homelessness.

“These folks have put their lives on the line for our country,” Davis says. “We owe it to them to help them help themselves get reestablished as civilians, and provide the necessary services and supports that enable them to move forward with their lives.”

Community Link focuses on homeless

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — What was launched in 1929 as a local Travelers Aid Society helping stranded travelers find housing now operates as Community Link, an agency with an annual budget of $3.8 million that helps just over 1,200 families a year get into rental housing or become homeowners for the first time.

And with the consolidation earlier this year of programs from Community Link and two other agencies that focused on providing homeowner education and counseling for first-time homebuyers and homeowners struggling to keep their homes, the organization has taken on that piece of those agencies’ work.

With 34 employees, Community Link focuses on helping homeless people in a six-county region get into housing.

Its mission is to “enable individuals and families to obtain and sustain safe, decent and affordable housing, says Floyd R. Davis Jr., president and CEO.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, for example, Community Link helped 816 families moved into rental housing, while helping 252 families become first-time homeowners.

It also helped 600 individuals find housing elsewhere in the U.S. after their attempt to live in Charlotte did not work out and they wanted to return to communities where they had support systems, a program that dates to the agency’s roots as a local Travelers Aid Society.

Community Link’s work with first-time homebuyers began in 2004, when it merged with Ugamma, a smaller agency that focused on home-ownership education and counseling.

That program, which now has been consolidated with similar efforts that had been housed at United Family Services and the Latin American Coalition, has faced rising demand for services as a result of the crippled economy, Davis says.

“Given the economic situation of the last few years, we see a growing number of people are facing difficulty in obtaining and sustaining housing,” he says, mainly because people have lost employment or cannot find jobs.

And people who lost jobs with higher pay are taking jobs with lower pay that otherwise might have been available to people with low-to-moderate incomes, making it tougher for them to find work, he says.

The program at United Family Services that provided housing counseling had served roughly 1,800 people a year, while the program at the Latin American Coalition had served about 400 people a year.

Community Link has hired the housing counselor who worked on that program at the Latin American Coalition, filling a vacant position.

And it has taken on a total of $516,000 in contracts United Family Services had with the city of Charlotte and with the N.C. Housing Finance Agency to operate its program.

Davis says he anticipates Community Link will expand its work assisting homeowners who are facing foreclosure as a result of the damaged economy.

The agency will seek funds to pay for that expansion from dollars the state will receive from a big settlement that attorneys general from a number of states made in lawsuit they filed against financial institutions for the way they had been handling foreclosures, Davis says.

Community Link also launched a new fundraising event in May, a “Sweet Escape” chocolate party, that it estimated would raise $10,000 to $15,000, an event it hopes to hold on an annual basis.

As part of its work, Community Link works to help clients repair their credit, cope with their budgeting, and address problems such as substance abuse and other mental-health issues that may keep them from finding housing.

“We help people deal with the barriers that have prevented them from obtaining rental housing or becoming homeowners,” Davis says.