After a Year of Homelessness, a Young Family Finds Stability
Project 16:49, in collaboration with ECHO, has expanded its services to now offer Rapid Rehousing to youth experiencing homelessness in Rock and Walworth Counties.
This new program is part of the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, a nationwide initiative to end youth homelessness in communities across the country. The program provides 24 months of rent assistance, case management and supportive services. Participants create personalized goal plans to achieve self-sufficiency and work toward becoming independent young adults.
Our first participant in the program is 20-year-old Taylor. She and her 3-year-old son Riley have been on the housing assistance wait list for over 270 days and were homeless for over a year. Once Taylor was enrolled in our program, it took nearly three months to find affordable housing and a landlord willing to participate. During this time, Taylor and Riley couch hopped, stayed in basements and finally in a motel. Project 16:49’s case manager maintained regular contact to provide basic needs assistance and general support, as well as identification of other resources and referrals that would be needed once they were housed.
We are excited to share that ECHO’s housing navigator was able to help Taylor secure an
apartment. Project 16:49’s staff coordinated Taylor’s move-in on February 3. This is the first time she has had a place to call her own, and the first time Riley has had his own room and his own bed. Project 16:49 and ECHO utilized in-kind donations received from the community to furnish and stock the apartment with the things Taylor and Riley needed to get started, including furniture, cleaning supplies, small appliances and bedding.
For the first time in over a year, Taylor and Riley were able to enjoy a fully home-cooked meal rather than rely on microwaved or pre-made foods. She made fish and spaghetti, her favorite dish. Now that they have a place to call home, Taylor is excited to find employment and get Riley enrolled in Head Start, and complete her high school education. She told us that she hopes to use her first paycheck to buy Riley some new cars and a galaxy night light for his bedroom.
During the overnight hours of January 26, two of the Project 16:49 staff, Matt Kaminski and Jen Preiss, participated in the Rock County Homeless Intervention Task Force’s Point-In-Time (PIT) count of the homeless population. During the count, volunteers search for and reach out to homeless individuals and families with the immediate goal of providing emergency shelter and supplies, and the long-term goal of eliminating homelessness. The data volunteers gather during this event can directly impact the amount of federal funding Rock County receives to address and combat homelessness locally.
Both Matt and Jen were assigned to teams searching in Beloit. Carrying hygiene bags, a flashlight and a “get out of jail free” card (in case the authorities wanted to know why they were out in the middle of the night), they proceeded with their assigned routes, aided by a fresh two inches of snow which made it easy to see recent footprints.
Matt was teamed with his friend Rachael, one of the homeless outreach workers at ECHO, and they were responsible for checking twelve locations in Beloit. “Compared to counts I’ve been a part of in the past,” Matt said, “this one was mostly uneventful. We didn’t come across anyone in any of the locations.”
Jen’s team also experienced a quiet night with little activity until they arrived at the bus station which was their last location to check. “Camped at the doorway was a person sleeping under a pile of sleeping bags,” Jen reported. “Our protocol was to not disturb, leave a hygiene bag and report it in for the count.” Then a homeless gentleman carrying a backpack walked Jen’s way as the second car of her team drove up. “They knew this man and had just spoken with him moments ago before coming to the bus station,” Jen said. “Leon was his name. He was asking about availability of shelter, especially for the upcoming nights that were going to be below zero. He told us, ‘I can handle it for tonight, but not when it gets really cold.’”
Leon explained that he had already started the process to acquire shelter and needed help with the follow up. One of Jen’s team members that works with ECHO reluctantly told Leon that no hotel vouchers were available that night, but assured she would meet up with him in the morning to help.
“Before we left to head back to ECHO headquarters,” Jen said, “Leon asked me for my name. After I told him, he extended out his hand for a handshake to say thank you and goodbye.”
Matt’s evening wasn’t entirely quiet. After two and a half hours of searching, Matt and his partner encountered two homeless individuals that had already been counted and given a care bag from another group searching in the same area.
“Overall, the experience was worthwhile,” said Matt, “and being out in the elements was very humbling. Trying to get help for those struggling with homelessness is the reason I continue to volunteer for each winter count.”
For Jen, the experience reinforced three points to her: “The importance of being seen. The importance of being heard. The importance of being counted.”
Eat, Dance and Laugh While You Help Support Our Youth
On Saturday the 18th, the Moose will have a potluck dinner and dance featuring the group Gas Can Alley, along with raffles and auctions. Then the following Thursday the 23rd, comedian Sarah Perry will headline a show at the new Comedy Cabin with ticket proceeds benefiting our organization. Come out and enjoy these fantastic events while helping our unaccompanied homeless youth.