Published on September 9, 2016
In 2009, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded grants to 23 communities to implement the Rapid Re-housing for Homeless Families Demonstration Program (RRHD). New Orleans, whose homeless population had risen by as much as 85 percent in the years since Hurricane Katrina, was chosen as a grantee. Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans was one of two agencies in the area chosen to implement the program’s three-year pilot project. The program, which uses the housing first model, officially began on August 1, 2010.
The Rapid Rehousing program assists families with the identification of available housing in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Assistance is also offered with move-in, short-term rental assistance, case management and linkages to community-based services. To be eligible, families must be living in an emergency shelter, on the streets or in a place not meant for human habitation.
Shawanda Holmes knows all too well what it’s like to live somewhere not meant for human habitation. She and her three children lived across the street from the shotgun double they now call home. At the house across the street, walls moved if they were bumped into, mold grew from numerous places, water dripped from the ceiling and tarps covered missing portions of the house’s exterior, leaving the home’s interior exposed to the elements in many places. One day, one of her daughters took a wrong step, and her leg fell through the floor. Two of the children suffer from lead poisoning due to the house’s paint.
Fearful for her family’s safety and well-being, Shawanda decided her family couldn’t live like this any longer. She went to the Social Security office to fill out paperwork, and after showing the social worker photos of her home, they agreed with her. Social Security referred her to Catholic Charities’ Rapid Rehousing program where she was connected with case manager Eola Roy.
“Ms. Roy has been a blessing,” Shawanda comments, smiling. Thinking about where she’d be without Ms. Roy and the Rapid Rehousing program, Shawanda shakes her head, saying, “We’d definitely be at a shelter somewhere. That house was horrible and we had to get out fast. We wouldn’t have been able to find a new place on our own.”
Ms. Roy helped Shawanda find available, appropriate housing for her and her children. Finding a house near her children’s current school and an already in-place support system was critical as Shawanda didn’t want to disrupt their young lives any further. The program helped the Holmes family pay the initial deposit and offered them short-term rental assistance. Ms. Roy also helped her acquire food vouchers and fill out paperwork with the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) to receive more long-term rental assistance.
Now, Shawanda and her children, who just went back to school, are all settled in their new home. Since the program also contains a case management element, Ms. Roy drops by to check on them regularly, and she and Shawanda speak on the phone often. She commented, “This mom’s faith, hope and determination are admirable. It’s my pleasure to be of service to this family who was not looking for a hand out, but a hand up.”