For the last two years, I have been doing training programs for the Officers of the Midland Division of the Salvation and got to know about their innovative approach to end homelessness. So I was excited to finally get to take a tour of their housing and homeless services. Colonel Neal Richardson picked me up at the hotel where I was staying. We stopped at a red light where there was a homeless person holding a sign asking for help. Colonel Neal lowered the window and called the man to come over. “Are you local?” he asked.
“Yes. I grew up here,” was the reply. Then Neal asked if he knew how to get to a certain street where there was a Salvation Army facility. He said yes. Then Neal said, “Go there and ask for Mrs. _____ and she will take care of you for the night. Tomorrow I will come by and see you. Here is my card.”
Then we drove off to see the actual facility that Neal referred to. At that moment, I was envious because I wished I could be that definitive and helpful in the many embarrassing encounters I have had with homeless individuals. Namely, I often felt useless and powerless in these situations.
“What will happen next once he finds his way to that facility?” I asked.
Neal told me that the Army has a network of housing facilities and services. An individual or family can stay for one night and then in another facility, up to a week to get a little more stability. With a case manager’s assistance, they can move to another facility and stay up to 120 days. Depending on their special needs, they could be referred to a drug rehab and other medical treatment facilities, mental health services, job referral, etc. all provided by the Salvation Army. If they are ready, they can move into a more permanent, affordable housing where they pay with a percentage of their income. Now, I was really jealous. This kind of comprehensive approach to homelessness should be in every town and city!
The Midland Division of the Salvation Army is a member of the Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, the vision of which is that “housing is a right, not a privilege. Therefore, all individuals and families must have the right to safe, affordable housing in healthy communities with access to a network of supportive services.”
Neal took me to see two of the four shelter facilities. Then we drove by the Rialton Apartments with 15 stories of affordable housing (under $550/month) in downtown. It was renovated and reopened in 2012. The facility includes a computer center, fitness facility, laundry center and meeting spaces for resident use. Then I was given a tour of the Veterans Residence, a $9 million project, three-story building with 48 single apartments for both male and female veterans, most of whom were homeless. Unlike traditional low-income housing, the Veterans’ Residence apartments feature aesthetics of superior quality, solid surface counter tops, new appliances, and other high-end amenities. These homelike surroundings aim to give veterans something to work toward as they strive to reintegrate themselves into the society they risked their lives to protect.
Then Neal showed me proudly his latest project, 3010 Washington Boulevard, just around the corner from the Veterans’ Residence, which provides 58 one-bedroom units designed for individuals with a variety of special needs. The building was a home for orphan boys and when the Salvation bought it in 1970, it was the Habor Light Center for men struggling with substance abuse. Now, it continues to be a pathway of hope, deterring homelessness for individuals with special needs.
I finally asked Neal the question in my head since the beginning of the tour of these amazing housing facilities, “How did you finance them?” Neal said that the Army owned the land and the buildings and the renovation and the new buildings projects are all paid for with Federal Government’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)
I went to LIHTC website and found that the following condition for these projects:
Proposed housing developments must:
- Meet a demonstrated affordable housing need;
- Provide housing for low-income persons and families;
- Demonstrate local support;
- Leverage tax credit funding with other financing and/or rental assistance;
- Be economically feasible;
- and Balance sources and uses of funds.
Neal told me the the Tax Credit program provided incentive to developers to build affordable housing and after a prescribed period of time, the building can be sold at market value and ease to be low-income housing. But Neal said that the projects they developed will stay affordable housing forever.
Ever since the tour, I have been sharing this comprehensive and innovative approach to homelessness with my constituencies – mostly church organizations. My dream is to see churches to develop their land and buildings into affordable housing using Government Tax Credit. Furthermore, I want churches and service agencies in the same area to coordinate their services to the homeless to create a comprehensive network like that of the the Salvation Army in St. Louis. I would love to explore these ideas with any organizations anywhere in the U.S. So write back and contact me if you are interested!
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
Reflection Questions for Proper 9 (Year C)
2 Kings 5:1-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
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