Desiree’s world was suddenly turned upside down when her 3-year-old son was diagnosed with brain cancer. After numerous emergency room visits and shifting her attention to her son’s care, she lost her job, lost her apartment and her vehicle soon became their home.
Although this 23-year-old mother sought help from several shelters for herself and her two sons, none was appropriate due to the liabilities associated with her son’s condition. When she didn’t know where else to turn, she tried dialing 211 for help.
On the other end of the line, Desiree was greeted by David Clinton, a 211 housing coordinator. David listened to her story and completed an initial assessment of her family’s situation. Based on the fact that she and her sons had been living in their car for several weeks, David arranged to meet Desiree to see how he could help.
Following their appointment, David and 211’s housing team set out to find a solution for this desperate family. After many phone calls and hours of advocacy on Desiree’s behalf, she and her children were recently placed into a long-term apartment in Apple Valley, suitable to provide the stability needed for her son’s cancer treatment.
In Desiree’s words, “You kept me happy and smiling and told me not to give up and to push harder. You were there when I needed the push.”
Desiree’s story was made possible by a new strategy funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To better meet the needs of homeless individuals and families, counties are being required to establish a Coordinated Entry System that streamlines the process for connecting the homeless with services.
In San Bernardino County, United Way’s 211 has been selected to build this new “Pathways Home” point-of-entry system for homelessness in partnership with a network of local housing agencies. A team of four passionate, experienced housing coordinators are now tasked with receiving incoming calls from the homeless, assessing their individual needs and situation, and helping to navigate the maze of housing resources.
The program’s intent is to move homeless individuals and families into permanent housing and supportive services as quickly as possible. Initial efforts are focused on the chronically homeless, veterans, and families in crisis.
In the short time since Pathways Home was established in November 2016, housing coordination team members have identified significant gaps in the local resources, but they have also had much success moving people off of the streets. To assist as many individuals as possible, the program’s strategy is to first help 211 callers to tap their own resources, which may include family, friends and other existing connections.
But for those needing deeper assistance, the 211 team has extensive knowledge of the complex requirements of various housing programs, and that is where they are changing the outcomes for many homeless.
By holding their hands through the process of documentation, qualification and acceptance into housing programs, more of the region’s most difficult-to-serve individuals are now moving off the streets and into housing. Since the initiative’s inception, more than 100 homeless callers have been accepted into a housing case management program.
“Having been homeless myself, I know well the need of a sense of safety, a place to call home and to find a purpose and a sense of belonging in a community,” shared Lily Palacios, one of the 211 housing coordinators. “I treat our clients with kindness and respect, giving them the same courtesy as I would wish to be receive if I needed assistance. I am excited for what is to come.”
Just weeks after moving from their car into their new apartment, Desiree and her boys are doing well. She has found a new job working as a dental assistant and is getting her son the care he needs to make a full recovery.
Clearly, moving individuals from homelessness to housing in a region with high levels of poverty and limited housing resources is not a simple task. But United Way’s 211 is proud to be playing a key role in developing this new system and helping to build Pathways Home.
For more information, visit www.211sb.org or dial 211.
Gregory Bradbard is president and CEO of the Inland Empire United Way.