Community Foundation of West Georgia Survey Strives to Better Understand Homeless Issues

Home.  For many families in our community having a place to call home or even describing a place where they “stay” is not easy.

The Community Foundation of West Georgia recently completed a door-to-door survey of those living in five local extended stay hotels in an effort to discover barriers to obtaining more permanent housing and develop community-based strategies.

“To secure housing is often a daily challenge that undermines the stability and quality of life for so many in our community. Often the daily and weekly challenge of secure housing results is a precarious reality. This frightening existence for parents means not knowing where they and their children will sleep, eat or be safe,” said Kim Jones, president of the Community Foundation.

“Our community is grappling with this growing issue, and because our community cares for its neighbors, many are searching for ways to provide immediate help as well as to develop long-term solutions,” she said.  “Many believe if we can stabilize those who are precariously housed, we can provide more stability for our community.”

The recent survey asked about housing stability barriers, tenant barriers like rental, credit and criminal history, financial barriers and personal barriers such as physical and mental health, education, abuse.

Some of the barriers to obtaining more permanent housing that were identified were poor credit scores, difficulty in finding affordable housing near their work and the high cost of extended stay that prevents residents from saving.

“Many of the residents at the extended stay hotels said that they never expected to be homeless.  Most experienced an event that quickly sent them into a downward financial freefall, such as a lost job, divorce, major car repair, doctor visit.”  Jones said.  “The perception is that these residents are chronically homeless, but 57 percent said they had not been homeless before and 75 percent had never been evicted as an adult.

“Other misconceptions are that the residents have a criminal history or they are living off government benefits or they are unemployed.  Of those surveyed, the majority had not been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, nor are they on probation or parole.  The majority said they were not receiving temporary assistance for needy families nor social security or disability benefits.  Most are working full-time jobs, but even with a steady job, it is a struggle to pay the weekly rates at the local extended stay hotels” she said.

Now that the survey is completed, the Community Foundation is sharing these findings with the local community and identifying what can be done to move people from precarious to permanent housing.  The Foundation has identified several possible starting points.

A financial literacy program could work with individuals to repair and build their credit scores.  A good credit score is a major step on providing permanent housing and reducing living costs.

Transportation continues to be a major barrier for those desiring to work.  A route-based transit system instead of an on-demand model could address this need.  Employers could join to provide shuttles from a limited number of stops, such as extended stay hotels and apartment complexes, to and from work.  A “Wheels to Work” program could provide cars with low interest loans to people who need a car to get to work.

Affordable housing could be offered through several strategies, such as a percentage of multi-family housing units set aside to be rented below market rent or on a sliding scale.  Zoning changes could be considered for single and double family housing in existing homes with basements or garage apartments.  Existing housing stock owned by seniors who are unable to maintain or care for their home could be matched with co-residents.  In addition to below-market rent, the co-residents would help maintain the home and yard.

To learn more about how to be part of the solution to the homeless situation in our community, visit the Community Foundation’s website at cfwg.net to receive updates on how to get involved.