Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist
(This is part of an ongoing series on the positive impacts federal community development funds have on local communities.)
In Fort Wayne, families facing homelessness can lean on Just Neighbors, a non-profit that helps them get back on their feet. The support carries a unique feature: the organization houses family members in the same shelter, so they aren’t forced to live apart.
For several years, Just Neighbors has benefited from $30,000 to $40,000 a year in federal Community Development Block grants. The money allows the agency to maintain a staff position dedicated to helping families who request assistance from Just Neighbors but can’t immediately be placed because the shelter is at capacity.
“As the only emergency shelter for families in our area, we have been and are full almost all the time, and it’s an unfortunate circumstance. We have families calling us on a regular basis who are literally out on the street and are trying to be somewhere safe and somewhere more stable,” said the Rev. Dr. Terry Anderson, executive director of Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network.
The staff member, whose position is supported by the federal grant, coaches families through their crisis situation and helps them identify resources. The position also prioritizes situations, so when the shelter has openings, people with the greatest needs are first in line for help.
“We’ve had families who really didn’t have any kind of assistance during that period of being out on the street,” Anderson said. “It’s heartbreaking to have those people call in desperate circumstances and have to say, ‘There’s nothing we can do for you.’ With this position, they’re still dealing with difficult situations, but there’s someone there helping them through that.”
In all, Fort Wayne received $2.6 million in federal Housing and Urban Development funding in 2016, with a majority coming from the Community Development Block Grant program.
The funds are used to help Just Neighbors and several other non-profits in the community, as well as assist homeowner repair programs. The funds also went toward leveraging dollars from a federal lead paint remediation grant to help mitigate contamination in rental units and homeowner-occupied houses where children have elevated blood-lead levels.
“These funds help people live safe and good qualities of life, and a loss or reduction of funding could hurt many residents’ ability to stay in their homes or access safe and affordable housing. The funds are critical for our community,” said Mary Tyndall, a community development public information officer for Fort Wayne.
The flexibility of the grant program, coupled with strong support from Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, is a major benefit, said Kelly Lundberg, the city’s director of housing and neighborhood services.
“We use it not only to run homeowner repair programs, but the same money also installed an urban trail through one of our low-income neighborhoods. It also funds food banks and an urban garden,” Lundberg said.
Another federal grant, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, has played a key role in increasing affordable housing in Downtown Fort Wayne. With downtown housing a relatively new amenity in Fort Wayne, city leaders say the federal dollars help them offer options for low-and-moderate income households as well.