‘We don’t get enough money to assist everybody’

The men’s shelter Ozanam Inn located in New Brunswick houses 40 individuals experiencing homelessness.

Rebecca Rhodes is the Service Area Director of Housing and Justice for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Metuchen. She has been working with the working poor and homeless population for 20 years, and currently oversees 15 housing and justice programs in Middlesex County.

This profile is part of the series, “The New Jersey 37,” which focuses on residents making up the 37 percent of households in state that cannot afford basic needs such as health care, housing, food, child care, and transportation.

Louis Harned: What is the process for one to be housed with Catholic Charities?

Rebecca Rhodes: We have a whole continuum of supporting housing. We serve people that are homeless and people with disabilities. There’s ways we keep people housed by providing preventative assistance. We have actual permanent supportive housing, which is for people with disabilities that have also been homeless, and then we having moving housing for single people, and we also have affordable housing.

LH: What kind of programs do you provide for the working poor and the homeless?

RR: We have assistance for people that are not yet homeless, but could be, that’s called prevention. We prevent homelessness with assistance in paying for utilities, rent, or mortgage. When the bottom drops out we have shelter, so if people need shelter they have somewhere to go. And then from there, in a perfect world, they transition either to Rapid Re-Housing or Permanent Supportive Housing. They are the two doors out.

LH: How many people are in those two programs?

RR: In the last six month,s we have assisted 390 individuals with prevention and 75 individuals were rehoused from April to June of last year.

LH: I want talk about temporary housing. You screen for health-related issues and background checks, so I want to know how long is the process for someone who comes in from the streets and is looking for temporary housing?

RR: It’s actually pretty streamlined, even though for instance we don’t do a lot of background; it’s what we call low barrier. A lot of it is going to be based on what they tell us. We try to bring to the shelter all the people we can, because if you’re homeless there’s really no other option. If we turn our back, they are basically on the streets. If I get a call at 4:00 p.m. and there’s a bed available, we can get them in within an hour.

LH: How many people total can you house in Middlesex County?

RR: We have 40 beds at the men’s shelter. Edison houses 100 people, Perth Amboy has 50 units of permanent housing, and New Brunswick has 16 permanent housing.

LH: What is the average length of stay for a person in transitional housing?

RR: We try to have people there no longer than 90 days, but if someone is doing what they need to do and they are in a tough spot it’s hard to say, ‘You have to go now,’ because then they’ll be back on the streets and then back to us. It doesn’t make any sense. What we liked to do is link people to permanent housing. That’s what more important — it’s not about having them sleep here for 90 days. What we do is provide case management services and we try our best to link them to other options for housing like Rapid Re-Housing.

LH: What is Rapid Re-Housing?

RR: It is assistance to families and individuals who have become homeless to rapidly rehouse them. We assist people with rental assistance, security deposits, finding an apartment, and temporary subsidiaries, with the idea they will get a job and will be able to support themselves and their rent.

LH: Do people get Rapid Re-Housing assistance when they are in your shelter?

RR: Yes.

LH: People in the shelter are in a different program than the prevention care?

RR: Think of it as a system. There’s a lot of moving parts — prevention tries to keep people going to the front door of homelessness. We don’t want to open that door if we can and Rapid Re-Housing opens the back door to homelessness, which is trying to move you away from homelessness, and the shelter is for when your homeless but you’re being sheltered.

LH: Are you providing prevention care clients with housing?

RR: No. They have their own houses. There are a lot of working poor with this need. They had to pay for something else and now they can’t pay rent we provide assistance to mortgages, rent, and utilities. The goal is to help them over the hump and help them remain where they are.

LH: How many sources of funding do you have?

RR: We have 12 different forms of funding. We receive so many people a day for the prevention program. We receive quite a bit of funding and it is never not needed.

LH: How do people in need know how to find you?

RR: The word on the street is remarkable. There’s the website and the 2–1–1 number you can call, and also we have been in the community a long time and we do so many other services besides housing. Other parts of our agency will refer people to us, the Board of Social Services will refer to us quite a bit, and even Social Security might refer people to us.

LH: President Trump plans on cutting funding to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Human Services, which provides you with a lot of your funding. Are the programs you provide to the working poor and homeless in jeopardy?

RR: All of these programs are extremely vulnerable, every single one of them. A lot of the money that comes to our agencies comes through federal grants, even if it goes to the state first then comes out to us we could potentially be affected.

LH: Is it every single day that people are seeking your help?

RR: Yes, every single day people are seeking help. The homelessness is pretty much under control but with the prevention assistance there’s actually a small percentage of people we are able to actually help. We help a lot of people I’m talking about Middlesex county, but it’s a drop in the bucket there’s so many more in need we don’t get enough money to assist everybody.

LH: What is the biggest struggle Catholic Charities faces?

RR: There’s definitely cuts in funding that are deeper than ever. There has been a tightening up of funding overall. There isn’t as much money out there and that’s always a challenge.

LH: What are new projects Catholic Charities is working on?

RR: We’re working on turning what was transitional housing for families into permanent housing for families, because there isn’t enough permanent housing for people that can’t afford what’s on the market. Why put folks into transitional [housing] if you can rapidly rehouse them into their own place and give them services and keep them housed?

LH: What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?

RR: I hope to accomplish to the point that people are in shelter for 30 days or less, and that we end chronic homelessness, and we increase our housing options for people of all incomes.