All Americans deserve a safe, affordable place to call home, says coalition director
Editor Note: The week of November 15 is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which is an annual program where people come together across the country to draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness. We asked Lineise Arnold, Executive Director of the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, Inc. (NACH) to guest write for our blog to talk about homelessness in the Huntsville/Madison County area. NACH has a satellite office at the Downtown Huntsville Library.
POINT-IN-TIME COUNT 2020 – Homeless Numbers Increase Again
This year’s Point-in-Time Count was conducted on Monday night, January 27th for all shelters and transitional housing dedicated for use by homeless persons. An Outreach and Service-based count done by outreach workers, First Stop Day Shelter and Hands Across Decatur, and the Harold Coomer Ministries Soup Kitchen in Decatur was conducted the next morning based upon where people stayed on Monday night. More than a dozen organizations participated by contributing data. Preliminary figures reveal an increase of 102 people since last year with an additional 70 plus people counted as unsheltered homeless and smaller increases in emergency shelter and transitional housing usage. Homeless children and veterans also saw increases from last year. Approximately half of all homeless veterans counted were found at the Downtown Rescue Mission. Final numbers will be available on our website within a few weeks.
As you see by the information provided above, Huntsville saw an increase in our homeless population prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unexpected loss of income has impacted many households nationally. This pandemic has especially hit low income wage earners. In North Alabama, traditional rental housing is out of reach due to the inability to get approved for rental housing because of the disproportionate rent/income ratio. Therefore, extended stay motels are often used as permanent housing options. Since the pandemic began, NACH has seen an increase in calls requesting assistance with hotel fees. One specific day, I was at a hotel to pay the rental fees for one client when the hotel manager asked if I could possibly assist with payment on another guest who was two months behind due to a COVID-19 related layoff. The manager stated the guest had been staying at the hotel for two years and had never been late on his hotel fees prior to being laid off from work because of the pandemic. Since COVID-19 we have seen an increase in Huntsville’s homeless population due to people relocating to the Huntsville area because of loss employment or housing in other cities. Some of those people came to Huntsville with an intent on residing with friends or family and once they arrived to Huntsville, the housing agreement did not work out. During this time, we also had less access to emergency shelter beds. One local shelter closed their emergency overnight shelter to people who had not stayed at that location within 14 days of Governor Kay Ivey’s Stay-at Home-Order due to COVID-19 precautions. Another local shelter remained open but only at half of their bed capacity due to public health guidelines. Unfortunately, some people relocated to Huntsville during this period with an intent to stay at a local emergency shelter but was not aware of the COVID-19 policies in place that would enable them to access an emergency shelter bed.
The faces of homelessness are constantly changing. Due to the economy more and more people are finding themselves in predicaments and circumstances that they never would have envisioned. Our clients are individuals who are educated with college degrees and felt they had stability in their employment yet after 15 years of service to their employer they were laid off from government contracts and government positions.
Homeless youth numbers between the age of 18-24 is on the rise across the nation. Some youth have been asked to leave their parents residence due to discipline problems but some youth are homeless because their parents simply chose to stop being a parent. Youth entering the homeless sector after aging out of the foster care system is increasing. Some youth who age out of foster care simply do not take advantage of the transition services offered by the department. Other youth leave the foster care system with intent with reuniting with their family but the reunion does not work out as planned. I have worked with youths in foster care on four different occasions in my 26 years of Social Service professional experience. There is a homeless young man in his mid- twenties that I work with now in my capacity as the Executive Director of NACH whom I first began working with when he was in foster care at the age of nine under my Family Reunification Job Duties.
Our clients are those newly divorced moms who thought they had stability in their marriages, and although they are college graduates they chose to stay at home and raise their family rather than enter the work force. They are now facing having to provide food shelter and clothing for their children with no recent employment history to support the Bachelors or Master’s Degree they have and aging job skills in an already bad economy.
Age and the gender of children can be a barrier for emergency shelter admission. Locally the New Futures Lodge and LIFT Housing are the only two-family shelters in which a mother and father can reside in the same shelter bedroom. The New Futures Lodge and LIFT Housing are also the only two local emergency shelters that will accept a mother with a male child over the age of 12. This barrier is of importance to me because I myself am a married mother with two male children of the ages that I would have difficulty being admitted in most shelters. New media reports indicate that divorce has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic.
Our clients are those veterans who have served their country by fighting in wars in distant lands only to return home to find that their spouse has moved on or that their previous employer no longer needs their service or has gone out of business.
The faces of homelessness are constantly changing.
I close by saying “In a country as great as America and with the number of Faith Based Organizations in our nation, all people - not just Americans - should have the right to safe affordable housing.”
H.U.D.’s Definition of Homelessness
A Homeless Individual lacks a fixed or regular nighttime residence or is someone who has a primary nighttime residence that is:
1) a supervised publicly or privately-operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
2) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
3) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
Chronic Homelessness Definition
1) In general, a chronically homeless person is an unaccompanied disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year; or
(2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
Causes of Homelessness
Lack of a source of adequate income
Lack of affordable housing
Disability or illness*
Lack of access to employment
Displacement from natural disaster
Inadequate access to, availability or efficacy of prevention or intervention services
Lack of education
Return from military services
Discriminatory practices in housing and hiring
*Mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence are the three most contributing factors to Homelessness.
How do we eliminate Homelessness?
To eliminate homelessness, individuals must be able to meet needs in the following four levels
1) Material (housing, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)
2) Social (sense of belonging, friendships, etc.)
3) Income (living wage)
4) Psychological (self-worth, personal responsibility, sense of contribution)
The ability for people to earn a” fair living wage” impacts a person’s ability to obtain housing that is affordable. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition 2019 Out of Reach Report, housing is affordable when the rent is no more than 30% of a household Income. The report states that in the Greater Huntsville area a minimum wage earner make $7.25 per hour, in order to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at Fair Market Rent which is $643.00 a month, the minimum wage earner would have to work 68 hours per week. The lack of safe affordable housing is a national crisis. In Huntsville the number of Public Housing Apartments has decreased due to the age of the properties. Residents who lived in units that were demolished were offered Housing Choice Vouchers. Housing Choice Vouchers allow low income earner the ability to live in neighborhoods with better schools and helps decentralize poverty. In most cases being issued a Housing Choice Voucher is a good opportunity for the resident but during this economy residents are having difficulty finding properties that accept Housing Choice Vouchers. In Huntsville the Tenant Occupancy Rates at apartment complexes are fairly low therefore there is no incentive for the property to partner with Federal Housing Programs. As the Huntsville Community grows economically we see housing developments increase for units with rental rates that are un-attainable by low income wage earners.
NACH Mission Statement
Our mission is to educate the public on homelessness and to coordinate agencies, community efforts, resources and concerned citizens into a seamless continuum of care to effect positive solutions to homelessness on Madison, Morgan and Limestone Counties.
NACH’s Role in the Community
NACH is the HUD recognized liaison in charge of coordinating homeless services in North Alabama.
The NACH Administrative Office conducts GAP Analysis based on the data in our Coordinated Assessment System, data collected during our Point in Time Counts, data collected from our Local Federal Funded Supportive Housing Programs and data collected from the Alabama Department of Economic and Consumer Affair (ADECA) Emergency Solutions Grant Recipients.
NACH Community Services
The NACH Satellite Office, located on the second floor of the Main Huntsville Madison County Public Library, is the point of entry for any person seeking Homelessness Prevention or Homeless Intervention Services. The hours of operation for the Satellite Office are Monday –Thursday from 10:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
What are the Services Provided at the Satellite Office?
Coordinated Assessment – This assessment asks a series of questions which helps determine the severity of the client’s needs. The score of this assessment helps rank the client prioritization level in order to ensure that The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded program dollars are spent in compliance with the HUD regulations as well as to help refer clients to the appropriate NACH agency provider.
Continuum of Care Identification Cards – NACH issues non-valid identification cards used for third party verification. This Identification card is only issued with verification from one of our agency partners that they are providing services to the client under the name listed on the referral letter.
NACH aids with Mainstream Resource Applications.
NACH aids with housing searches and completions of Public Housing applications.
Income is vital to housing stability. In partnership with the Alabama Cooperative Extension NACH provides Job Readiness classes. Job Announcements and Community Events are posted on the bulletin board in the NACH Satellite Office.
NACH issues mini meal kits, hygiene packs and emergency cold weather gear to clients in need. These items are kept on hand at the NACH Satellite Office.
NACH provides transportation assistance for employment, housing searches, social service and medical appointments with appropriate documentation of appointment verifications
About the Author:
Lineise Arnold received an Applied Associate Degree in Police Science from Calhoun Community College, A Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Justice Studies from Athens State Community College and Master’s Degree in Social Work with a concentration in Policy, Planning and Administration from Alabama A & M University.
Lineise has worked in the Social Services Field since 1995. She is currently the Executive Director of the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless (NACH) where she has been employed since 2009. She previously served as a Case Manager at the Huntsville Metro Treatment Center where she provided case management services to individuals diagnosed with opiate dependency. She was also employed at the Huntsville-Madison County Mental Health Center as a Case Manager II assigned to the Shelter Plus Care Program. The Shelter Plus Care Program is a housing program for individuals who are homeless and diagnosed with mental illness. She has also worked for Volunteers of America North Alabama as a Residential Services Coordinator responsible for three facilities which housed up to 33 residents who have been diagnosed with Mental Illness. She is the owner of Transitions Social Services Support and Consulting and has contracts with the Madison County Department of Human Resources working with Family Re-unification. Mrs. Arnold also served in the United States Army Reserves. She has a passion for client advocacy and helping others.