YWCA turns focus to long-term housing for homeless women

The mission to serve the homeless hasn’t changed for the Minot YWCA, but that mission is taking a new direction.

The YWCA has begun offering permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless women with mental or physical disabilities. The housing provides a longer term solution than the organization has offered in the past.

YWCA president Alisa Dahl said the change in focus was prompted by Housing and Urban Development, which provides grant funding for homelessness programs.

“The goal is to reduce the number of homeless people,” she said. “By doing permanent supportive housing, they are going to reach that goal quicker. They realize that people who are chronically homeless, a lot of them have a disability, and they need those supportive services.”

The YWCA is converting the seven apartments on its upper level to the new program from previous use as transitional housing. Transitional housing has been a middle step for women moving from emergency shelter toward permanent housing.

In some cases, transitional residents have qualified for the permanent supportive housing. In other cases, the YWCA has been converting an apartment’s use as a resident moves out of the transitional program to live on her own.

As of earlier this week, the YWCA had one available apartment and another soon to open. The YWCA also has a handicapped-accessible apartment that is available on its main floor. Under its grant funding, the YWCA cannot accept children along with women in its apartments, which are one-bedroom.

Permanent supportive housing is a long-term option provided to someone who has been chronically homeless, defined as having been homeless for at least a year or four times in the past three years. Homelessness is defined as not having a dwelling, such as living in a tent or vehicle. Staying with family and friends does not meet the definition. A woman also must have a disability that contributes to the homelessness to be eligible for the program.

Residents pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, up to a maximum of $550 a month. That maximum will increase to $700 in October, although that remains below the county maximum rent in HUD’s traditional housing assistance programs. Residents in permanent supportive housing are encouraged to seek HUD housing assistance, if eligible, because the assistance can be applied to their rents at the YWCA.

The YWCA is a secured facility that prohibits drugs, alcohol and male friends in the apartments.

One new resident, who had been living in her car or sleeping on a mattress in a flood-damaged home with no electricity, said having a place of her own “feels pretty good.” She works part-time and plans to look for full-time work.

The YWCA partners with local agencies to obtain supportive services for residents. Dahl said the YWCA plans to eventually hire a case manager, but currently, those services typically are provided by North Central Human Service Center. The YWCA has a resident manager who monitors residents to ensure that they are getting the supportive services they need. The organization also is in the process of hiring an executive director.

The YWCA also continues to operate its emergency shelter for women and children on the lower level of its building. Recently, the YWCA received a federal matching grant through the state to fund motel stays for women needing emergency shelter when its on-site shelter is full.