COVINGTON, Ky. — It’s been a month since Heather Egan fell behind on her rent and was evicted from her home.
Fortunately, Welcome House of Northern Kentucky quickly found space for her and her three kids in the organization’s Covington shelter for women and children.
“It was a real life-saver,” said Egan, who works for a shipping company in Florence. “I know what I need to do, but having a hand to help me go through the process has been a big help.”
Welcome House has seen a growing number of families and individuals who need a helping hand in recent years, said CEO Danielle Amrine.
“We have a wait list for every single program that we operate here,” Amrine said. “And especially for shelter for women and children, we generally have a five- to 10-person wait list at all times.”
A major grant from the Day 1 Families Fund will give Welcome House the opportunity to help more.
The organization learned shortly before Thanksgiving that it would be one of 32 nonprofits across the country to receive Day 1 Families Fund grants. Welcome House got $1.25 million to use over the next five years. Bethany House Services in Cincinnati also received a $1.25 million grant.
It’s a huge influx for Welcome House, which has an annual budget of $3.2 million, and Amrine said the organization hopes to increase the number of people it serves by as much as 40 percent with the funding.
“We really want to take an aggressive approach,” she said. “We really want to make an impact with these funds while we have them.”
The small nonprofit plans to extend its reach in several ways. Amrine said Welcome House would use the money to:
- Increase street outreach, meaning more staff will be mobilized go out into the community seeking individuals and families who are homeless and could benefit from Welcome House’s services.
- Expand mobile medical services. Welcome House now has a specially outfitted van that a nurse practitioner uses to provide basic health care for people experiencing homelessness, and Amrine wants to reach more people who need that help.
- Create more diversion options. Some of the money could be used to pay for short-term hotel stays to keep people out of homeless shelters altogether as Welcome House works to get them into more permanent housing, Amrine said.
“There’s a lot of people in our community that might not be eligible for traditional HUD dollars,” she said. “They might not be street or shelter homeless, but they may be on the verge or doubled up with somebody.”
The grant money gives Welcome House the flexibility to help those people, too, Amrine said.
‘The future of homelessness’
Getting an accurate count of the number of people experiencing homelessness can be difficult, but state officials believe homelessness is on the rise, said Wendy Smith, deputy executive director of the Kentucky Housing Corporation.
The January 2019 K-Count of people living outside or in homeless shelters found a total of 301 people experiencing homelessness in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.
That number was down slightly from the 327 homeless people counted in those three counties in January of 2015.
But Smith said those headcounts, performed on a single night each January per U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requirements, don’t give a complete picture of individuals and families who slip in and out of homelessness throughout the year.
A separate count of people experiencing homelessness in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, logged a total of 1,530 people in the three counties, she said.
“We are hearing about homelessness and, more broadly, affordable housing needs from parts of the state that we didn’t use to hear from,” Smith said. “Awareness of it is definitely heightened, and concern about it seems quite heightened.”
Amrine said homelessness in Northern Kentucky is growing as rent prices increase.
“We’re in the middle of an affordable housing crisis where a one- or two-bedroom apartment used to be affordable, $350 or $400,” Amrine said. Those apartments now rent for $700 or $800 a month.
“In the state of Kentucky, at minimum wage, an individual would have to work over 70 hours a week to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment,” she said.
That is contributing to homelessness throughout the Greater Cincinnati region, said Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness in Cincinnati.
“Both Welcome House and Bethany House are great organizations that are struggling to meet a huge need,” Finn said. “Family homelessness, it’s a current reality, but it is also sort of the future of homelessness if something doesn’t change.”
‘Life gets in the way’
This marks the second time Heather Egan has experienced homelessness.
The house where she was living was condemned a few years ago, she said, leaving her and her older children homeless in just two hours.
“It almost makes me feel like I’m a big failure,” she said. “And I have to keep reminding myself that life gets in the way. You know, you think that everything is gonna go a set way, but it doesn’t. There’s a lot of bumps in the road.”
Egan said she keeps telling herself: “It’s been hard. But at the same time, I’m like,' OK, I’ve hit this bump before. I know I can get through it again.'”
For now, she’s continuing to work and is getting as much help as she can from the Welcome Center staff. She said having their shoulders to cry on is almost as valuable as having a roof over her head.
“It makes us not feel so alone, especially because it’s this time of year,” Egan said. “Imagine sleeping in your car with your kids and being Christmas on top of it. That would just be devastating.”
Amrine said she thinks about that, too, as she and her staff work to leverage their new grant dollars to try to help more individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
“I can’t imagine, you know, being a mom and being without a home on Christmas,” Amrine said. “We try to make it as warm and comforting for them as we can.”
Even with its new grant money, Welcome House of Northern Kentucky needs a lot of support to help the people the organization serves. More information about Welcome House – and how you can help – is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.