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Earlier this month, members of the Planning and Development Committee met to discuss research related to the City’s Families in Transition Program (FIT). The program is administered by Connections for the Homeless, an organization that provides housing, employment and supportive services to homeless families and individuals.
The FIT program is specifically designed to help homeless or at-risk families transition back to autonomous living. In May, Connections requested additional funding: $5,730 to cover an extension for one family already in the program, and an additional $5,796 to fund a new family. Both funding requests have since been approved, however the Planning and Development Committee requested additional information to help determine the impact of the program.
“No one has anything like we do,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “Most communities offer Section 8 Housing [now called housing vouchers] or only use [federal] Community Development Block Grant funds.”
Currently, FIT is assisting three Evanston families. However, Paul Selden, executive director of Connections, said he would like to see that number grow. “About seven months ago, an affordable housing task force completed a report for the City, and one of their recommendations was to expand FIT to about 20 families a year,” said Mr. Selden.
Mr. Selden says he estimates that over the course of a year, around 150 Evanston families are homeless for at least some period of time. Mr. Selden estimates that there are about 100 homeless children in School District 65, and in School District 202, he says, the number is closer to 200.
Funding-application obstacles currently limit FIT’s growth. “There’s never been any real application process,” Mr. Selden said. “Interested applicants would first have to go to the Housing Commission, then the Planning and Development Committee, and finally to City Council.”
Lehman Walker, the City’s Director of Community and Economic Development, proposed a formal request for proposal (RFP) process that would pre-qualify organizations such as FIT to recommend families for inclusion in the program. “The idea was to make organizations more accountable, and to set up specific criteria for qualification,” Mr. Selden explained.
The RFP process would streamline FIT’s ability to support a greater number of families. However the future of this process is in flux, as Mr. Walker is leaving his Evanston post this August to become city manager of University City, Mo.
Mr. Selden noted that there are other federal resources, such as the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), that provide financial assistance for homeless families. However, he suggested that the distinction was that HUD does not provide direct assistance with the transition from homeless to economic independence, while FIT does.
Mr. Selden also said that another key differentiating factor is HUD’s definition of affordability does not incentivize families to become economically self-sufficient. HUD policy states that no household should have to pay more than 30% of its annual income on housing. “But if a household income is zero dollars, there is no requirement to pay,” Mr. Selden said.
In contrast, Mr. Selden said, FIT helps households transition to independence by providing education and vocational assistance. “Families in Transition sets the burden on the client so they have to continue to work and provide for their half of the rent. We also steadily increase the rent to help them transition away from the program,” he added.
Mr. Selden requested that the City continue funding the program. Several documents were presented to Committee members for review, and discussion is expected to continue at the July 26 Planning and Development Committee meeting.