COLORADO SPRINGS. Once a week, St. Mary’s Cathedral parishioner Bob White spends a full day driving around the Pikes Peak region picking up donations of furniture and household items. The items will be used to furnish apartments for clients of Partners in Housing (PIH), a non-profit organization that provides transitional housing for families in crisis.
After four years volunteering with PIH, White has learned which items are most likely to be picked by clients visiting the agency’s donation room. The furniture must be functional but small enough to fit into an apartment, and accent pieces are also highly desirable.
“They still have a sense of style and want their home to look attractive and inviting,” White said.
Last year, Partners in Housing helped more than 130 families transition from homelessness to a stable residence. In addition to helping families put a roof over their heads, PIH teaches clients the skills they need to avoid being back on the street. Clients are allowed to remain in their housing units for a year, but often times they are able to move into their own residence after six months.
“We are a housing program; we are not just a box,” said Dianne Reitan, PIH development manager. “When a homeless family moves into their unit, they agree that they are going to have a caseworker, attend mandatory life skills classes and meet with a budget counselor — known as a Money Mentor. The program is about empowerment, giving people hope and giving them the skills they need to never be in that situation again.”
Most PIH clients are women with children who are leaving an abusive or unhealthy relationship, Reitan said. In trying to keep their families together, they often hide the fact that they are homeless.
“Two-thirds of all women who are homeless are running from someone,” she said. “A lot of times, single moms with kids do everything they can to make sure you never know they are homeless, and that includes people in church and people in schools. If they stand on the street corners with their kids and panhandle, their kids (will be taken away from them) and that family gets separated.”
“That’s why they sleep in the car, they couch-hop with friends and family — that is the true image of the bulk of homeless people in America,” she said.
An already-tight rental market is impacting the ability of families in crisis to secure housing, especially if bad credit is part of the picture, Reitan said. Helping clients establish a good credit history is one of the most important services PIH provides.
“Landlords are full; they can choose who they rent to,” she said. “It does not matter if you have a job; if you don’t have any credit, have bad credit, or have no history, you won’t get an apartment.”
Currently, PIH has 60 residential units — all of which are owned by the agency.
“We own all of our homes; we don’t have any mortgages,” Reitan said.
The agency has enjoyed a more than 80 percent success rate in helping its clients achieve self-sufficiency, but there are some clouds on the horizon that could threaten PIH’s efforts over the next few years.
Legalized marijuana use is already having a negative impact on PIH’s success rate, Reitan said.
Clients must pass a drug test before they are able to move into one of PIH’s housing units, and for more and more people, it’s an insurmountable obstacle, she said.
“It’s amazing how many people would rather live in their cars than give up marijuana,” Reitan said. “But we’ve noticed that, if someone is in our program and using drugs, they’re not as motivated.”
A second factor that PIH will have to contend with is a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“In 2019, we will no longer be a HUD-funded agency because HUD has decided it wants to shift its funding and support (the chronically homeless), not families,” Reitan said. “We will have to make up the difference. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Applications for housing are available on the agency’s website, www.partnersinhousing.org, but they must be submitted in person at the PIH offices, located at 455 Gold Pass Heights, Colorado Springs, 80906.