Federal grant helps local homeless shelters expand services

Those who become homeless in Centre County and also are dealing with mental health issues can face greater obstacles to finding suitable housing, an issue that a federal grant helps local shelters address.

Three local shelters have received U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Continuum of Care funds since 2004. The grants are meant to help the homeless move into independent living situations, increase their skills and assist them in reaching a stable place in life.

In particular, the local funds have helped the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, Housing Transitions Inc. and the Burrowes Street Youth Haven to provide those services to clients with mental disabilities.

State College acts as a sponsor for the funding application, and Borough Council last week approved submitting an application requesting $10,920 in the next round of funding. The shelter programs contribute a 20 percent match.

Since 2004, 182 people have received services through the program.

Ron Quinn, executive director for Housing Transitions, said the grant provides life skills education, case management and assistance in finding permanent housing.

“It allows us to work with folks who we might not otherwise have the capacity to serve,” he said.

Quinn said those in need may first move into Centre House, HTI’s shelter, receive services through HTI and Centre County agencies, then move to Nittany House Apartments. HTI has four apartments available around the community specifically to help the homeless struggling with mental health issues integrate back into the community.

“The continuum is what we’re looking at — moving people through the system,” he said. “We’re looking at working with them, so they become even more independent and move on to a non-supported living arrangement.”

Debra Greenleaf, assistant executive director for the Women’s Resource Center, said the grant has provided what the center calls “double staffing.”

Funds pay a second staff member to help provide one-on-one care the center can’t usually provide.

Greenleaf said the center works with the county’s Shelter Plus Care Program, which provides homeless services to those with a serious mental illness, or with both a serious mental illness and drug and alcohol issues.

Quinn and Greenleaf said homelessness can become a cyclical problem for those with a mental illness, if not for the additional services.

“When you have people in shelter who have a lot of needs, it can end up seeming like they’re not a good match for shelter,” Greenleaf said. “If they’re not successful in a shelter program, they may become homeless again. With more support, they can have a successful experience and maybe transition to a housing situation that’s more suitable for them.”

The ongoing support is key to that population, in which people can be more vulnerable and less able to navigate the social services system on their own.

Quinn said that support can help people from ending up back at Centre House and starting the process again, from the beginning.

“It provides a more stable way of moving people back into the community,” he said. “So, hopefully, the outcome that we’re looking for is self-sufficiency. This provides a more supportive environment for that.”