Thursday, December 8, 2016

The MDHA Flex Fund - A Powerful Tool for Unsung Heroes Ending Homelessness

When our family moved into an apartment in 2007, the apartment complex was running a special, and so we did not have to pay a deposit or a move-in fee. That meant that we saved the whopping sum of $69! For us, and likely for most of the people reading this, paying those $69 would not have been an issue, much less a deal breaker. Not paying it was just a nice perk. Not so for many of our homeless neighbors.

Take Kisha*, a young single mother, with two boys, aged two and three, who was staying at Dallas Life. With the help of her City of Dallas case manager, Mirka, she found an apartment, and enrolled in a program, that would pay her rent and even her deposit. The apartment complex required two types of fees, before she could move in, an administrative fee and an application fee, totaling $95. Now, you might assume that if the City of Dallas is paying for her rent and her deposit, which are much greater sums, they could pay these fees for her. Not so. The rules of the grant that funds the City of Dallas program, does not allow it to pay these types of fees. Kisha would have been happy to pay the $95 herself, but her only income, child support, had not arrived on time. So, Kisha and her boys were stuck.
Marsha, of Family Gateway, an Unsung Hero
Or take Sarah and her daughter Carol, who were staying at Family Gateway. With the help of Marsha, their case manager, Sarah had obtained a housing voucher, and had found an apartment complex that would take it. Sarah was excited to have a place to call home, and it would be much easier to care for Carol, who has a disability, in an apartment of their own. However, the apartment complex required payment of an administrative fee of $149, before they could move in. With their only income being inconsistent child support, and SSI (Supplemental Security Income), there was no way they could afford this. Sarah and Carol too were stuck.

Or take Laura, an Austin Street Center guest. Working with her case manager, Niki, she too had received a voucher and found an apartment. Unlike Kisha or Sarah, Laura had only herself to worry about. Therefore, with her SSI and Social Security benefits, though it would be “tight”, she would be able to pay her portion of the rent and even her application fee. However, the apartment complex needed her to put down a $200 deposit, and that she could not afford. I think you can see the pattern here already. Laura too, you guessed it, was stuck.

Prior to September 2015, Kisha and her boys’ story, Sarah and Carol’s story and Laura’s story, would all have ended there. They would have been stuck, and unable to move on. They would have remained homeless because of $95, $149, and $200, respectively. And these three cases are just examples of countless others.

So, what happened in September 2015? With the help of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, MDHA launched the MDHA Flex Fund. It was designed as a fund of last resort, to pay for minor, but impactful expenditures, that can help folks, just like Kisha, Sarah and Laura, end their homelessness.
Niki, of Austin Street Center, an Unsung Hero
All Mirka, Marsha and Niki had to do was fill out a simple one page form. On the form, they each stated the need of the client, how fulfilling it would help that client end her homelessness, and why there was no other resource to pay for it. They and their supervisors signed the forms, and along with documentation to back them up, they each emailed their forms to Shavon, at MDHA.

Now, we have all filled out forms for various things in life, only to then have to wait, and wait and wait. That is not how Shavon operates. In each case, she carefully reviews each form, and if everything is in order she quickly approves the request. She then has Wayne, our CFO, cut a check to the vendor (in these cases the apartment complex), and notifies the case manager that the check is ready. The case manager swings by MDHA to pick the check up, and delivers it to the apartment complex. This whole process usually takes only 24-48 hours.

One of the most attractive aspects of the program is how it empowers the unsung heroes of our homeless response system, case managers. It gives them a powerful and readily accessible tool, with which they can end a client’s homelessness quickly and permanently. Since September 2015, using this tool, case managers like Mirka, Marsha and Niki have helped hundreds of clients, just like Kisha, Sarah and Laura, rebuild their lives. And you really can’t put a price on that…  

*All client names have been changed to protect their privacy.