When Elizabeth Guercio’s children first heard about their new home, she said, “they thought it was a lie.”

“I had to take pictures and show them: this is your bed. This is your room,” she explained about the house that is almost exactly between where her fiancé’s mother lives and her younger children’s school. “It feels great.”

With support from Catholic Charities, Guercio found her family’s home through a rapid rehousing initiative launched by Baltimore City in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program aims to move people out of shelters or other temporary environments where close living quarters and shared spaces can facilitate the spread of the coronavirus. Catholic Charities was one of the organizations selected to support the effort, committing to find housing and providing other supports for 30 individuals and 20 families.

Clients referred by the city name their preferred ZIP code and amenities and select a home from a range of options Catholic Charities identifies by working with landlords and leasing companies. After helping them move in, including providing furniture and household supplies, the agency works to connect clients to the supports needed to keep them in their homes. That may include vocational training or job placements, behavioral health services, access to benefits, childcare and more.

The goal, said Chris Kelly, Catholic Charities’ administrator of Community Services, “is getting folks in a place where, when all this ends, they’re able to continue without any subsidy, or we’ve identified a subsidy that they’re able to transition into.”

Back on her feet

Before she found the program, Guercio had experienced three years of periodic homelessness, navigating shelters and abandoned houses.

“Due to abusive relationships, I had to take my children and flee my own home because my abuser wouldn’t leave,” she said, adding that she was often separated from her five children, ages 8 to 21. “There was no running water, heat, electricity – no way to cook. I had to let them go with family members until I was back on my feet.”

Two weeks after she signed her current lease in late March, two of her children moved home, and “they love the house,” she said. The older children come on weekends, partly because her 14-year-old is autistic and needs a gradual transition to new living arrangements.

“They’re happy to be back together. They’ve missed each other so much,” she said. “Now it’s all the things that come along with the house – renter’s insurance, why the mail’s not coming. But at the end of the day, I have a roof over my head and over my children’s heads, and we’re not outside in the crazy world.”

By early May, Catholic Charities had received referrals for all 50 clients and was ramping up case-management services, said Rodney Lee, director of Community Housing.

Meeting the program’s goals has required increased staffing, expanding relationships with local landlords, and working through new systems, such as conducting property inspections virtually due to COVID-19. Internally, because the grant brought together expertise from two Catholic Charities programs – My Sister’s Place Women’s Center and Community Housing – the agency has also developed new ways of coordinating the support to clients.