For Warren County residents struggling with finding a home, or staying in the one they have, there is help; but funding is shrinking and it's just that, help. The responsibility for improving their situation ultimately lies with them.
"There are those who come in defeated, not thinking anything can help. There are those who feel entitled or think a change will happen right away. Then there are the grateful who will embrace what's available," Community Service Director for the Warren-Forest Counties Economic Opportunity Council (EOC) Julia Roque said of the people she works to assist with housing issues. "We're proud to say most of the people who come in take advantage of the help available to them."
That help comes in many forms from a wide-range of organizations.
The EOC administers a transitional housing program to provide a place to stay while the homeless work toward a more permanent solution. Through the program, housing is provided for 30 percent of your gross income, whatever that may be.
"You need a place that can take them immediately," Roque said. "We take them no matter what. It provides a bridge from literally being without a place to stay. It's easier to help people once they have stable housing. They can start worrying about finding a job, getting help for underlying problems and we can find them to provide them help."
Transitional housing, however, is limited.
The EOC's Faith Inn, at 225 Pennsylvania Ave. W. in Warren is just one of the often overlooked transitional housing facilities in the area.
"We have seven transitional buildings with 27 rooms," Roque said. "It's always filled to capacity. We have stacks of applications that we put on a waiting list on a needs first basis."
The EOC administers programs to help with the costs associated with housing as well, including helping those unable to pay their utility bills.
The Housing Authority of Warren County can sometimes provide a solution when trying to match limited funds to affordable living space. The authority has programs exclusively for elderly, disabled and low-income residents aimed at making a consistent place to stay a reality.
According to Forest-Warren Human Services Director Mary Kushner, help with rent and utilities is available through her offices also.
Beyond housing, Head Start programs, subsidized child care, mortgage counseling budget counseling, employment readiness programs and homelessness prevention services are also offered by the EOC. If the EOC doesn't have a program to help an individual, Roque said, they work to refer them to other agencies that do.
"The EOC is basically a one stop shop for services," Roque said.
A number of other organizations can also provide help with everything from direct aid to counseling services, including financial, living and substance abuse counseling. Beacon Light Behavioral Health, Deerfield Behavioral, Love Inc., the Salvation Army, area churches and even the county public assistance office, just to name a handful, all provide help to individuals in need.
In Warren County there's even a local housing options team consisting of representatives from a number of human services organizations that meets every few months to discuss issues and coordinate services.
"Warren County is really lucky to have this kind of infrastructure," Roque said. "All of these programs work together. They depend on grants and people in the community to donate and help solve the problem."
If someone is facing housing issues, or, according to Roque, more importantly, falling behind on bills, "The first thing they need to do is pick up the phone and call us. If we don't have a program to help them we can refer them to agencies that maybe can."
It takes more than a phone call to turn your fortunes around though, according to Roque.
"People asking for assistance need to know the programs are only here to help," Roque said. "They have to do the work. We can lead them, but they have to do it. They need to want it. There are expectations of the things we ask of them and half to 70 percent of the work is done by them. They need to do things that will help them in the future."
Roque and Kushner agreed there are some cases where there's not much they can do.
"The difficult cases are the ones that do not meet the criteria for services," Kushner said.
"They need to realize funding is scarce and they need to take advantage of it when it's there," Roque said.
"Society has the perception that these folks make bad choices, but that is not the case," Kushner said. "As I read the paper or hear the news of mission work and orphanages in other countries and the support our community gives - I think, 'Why can't the giving start at home?'"