With support from the federal government, Baltimore City is working to quickly move people from shelters or other temporary settings into permanent homes, and Catholic Charities will be a key partner in that effort. The agency received $2.5 million to support the work, which is expected to last 20 months.

The Housing Opportunities and Stability – or HOST – program brings together expertise from My Sister’s Place Women’s Center and the agency’s Community Housing programs to support a process known as rapid re-housing. This approach typically focuses on people who are experiencing homelessness but facing low to moderate needs for services, offering rental assistance and accompanying services for between six months or more.

However, the Baltimore City program is driven by the impacts of COVID-19 and the need to move people out of shelters and other temporary environments, where close living quarters and shared spaces can facilitate the spread of the virus. This will likely mean clients in the new program will have greater needs than those usually targeted for rapid re-housing, and HOST will also provide a longer period of rental assistance than in traditional programs.

“We’re just going to have to approach it a little differently,” said Chris Kelly, Catholic Charities’ administrator of Community Services. “We know how hard it is to get families into rapid re-housing. Many families come with tremendous barriers.”

Challenges such as criminal backgrounds and complicated housing histories may bar clients from certain properties. Kelly said his team is already starting to search out apartments that may be suitable for a range of individuals and families, preparing for when the city begins to refer clients.

Tapping into previous experience

Across the grant, Catholic Charities expects to support 20 families and 30 individuals. Given the involvement of My Sister’s Place, the latter group will likely focus on single women. To support all clients, the agency will tap into its experience with rapid re-housing in other settings.

Anna’s House, the Catholic Charities program serving Harford County individuals and families experiencing homelessness, for example, runs a rapid re-housing program called “Keys of My Own” to help families on their paths to independence. The program has supported people like Natasha, a single mother who was laid off from her job as a hotel housekeeping supervisor shortly after giving birth to her fifth child. The family lost their home, stayed with friends and family members and at hotels, and eventually had to split up. Through “Keys of My Own,” Natasha found a new home, daycare for her youngest children, and a new job. With that stability, she was able to reunite her family.

“I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now without the support of Anna’s House. I am forever grateful to the program and the staff for being there, to just make us feel welcome and giving us hope again and, of course, bringing my family together again,” she said.

Looking to the future, Kelly said COVID-19 may upend many traditional approaches used to support people experiencing homelessness, and rapid re-housing may become more widespread as communities wrestle with the pandemic, even after the introduction of a vaccine.

“It’s still going to be a public health issue,” he said of the virus. “There could be some really significant changes to homeless services – especially shelter assistance – because of this pandemic. I am anticipating there will be a focus on rapid re-housing in the future.”