by Lisa Tome
Unless you are a veteran, or qualify for one of two other special programs, the wait for housing assistance in Cecil County is three years.
That's a short wait in comparison with other areas, explained Earl Grey, a family Self Sufficiency Coordinator with the Cecil County Housing Office. He also explained that the three-year wait is for those who apply for a regular housing choice voucher under the category of general population.
Veterans may wait about a week for housing. Those who qualify for family unification or the Fair Share program have less than a year to wait for help. There are currently 900 people on the waiting list for housing choice vouchers.
Grey was one of the presenters during the Cecil County Board of Health's Overview of Homelessness presentation held on Tuesday, September 8. There are also housing department programs to prevent foreclosure and education classes promoting home ownership. "People (facing foreclosure) wait until the very last minute to ask for help," said Grey.
Cecil County Health Officer Stephanie Garrity led the discussion and explained the federal definition of homelessness. She also said that it's a collaborative effort, and no one agency in Cecil County works on behalf of the homeless. The county does receive some federal funds for homelessness. The Department of Social Services spent $293,000 in grant funds on homelessness in a year.
Diana Klusak, who works for Cecil's Department of Social Services said there is an attempt to capture data regarding homelessness. What is not clear is actual numbers because no one is required to report information if they are homeless.
Social Services reported 191 homeless families in one year. Councilwoman Joyce Bowlsbey said these numbers seem low.
Gaps in services were identified. These include lack of affordable housing, lack of mental health service providers, lack of substance abuse assistance, and limited availability of funds.
"There's never enough money," said Klusak. Klusak said that one of the issues with housing is that Cecil is linked to Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. where housing is more expensive. The monthly rent for an efficiency here is $799.
"There should be some way to move people from the cycle of poverty," said Councilman Alan McCarthy.
Mike Brandon talked about the role of the Paris Foundation in serving the homeless. That Christian - non-profit facility is open every day and is manned by volunteers.
They serve seven dinners and one lunch to homeless weekly.
"Every meal is a platform for service," said Brandon. "We are not a typical handout organization. We want to help people move from their current circumstances."