Akita Brown was a single mother with three children. She had lost her job, lost her home, and was staying with friends and in hotels because she couldn’t find a home she could afford.
But with help from a countywide housing support program that started in December, Brown finally got the help she needed to get her life back on track. Her family was among 60 that the support team helped to find permanent and stable housing.
Now, the goal for the CalWORKs Housing Support Program is to place 180 families in permanent housing by June 30. Brown said having stable housing is what helped her find work for the first time in more than a year.
"Without the housing support I would not be able to hold down a job," she said.
Initially, the program helped pay for her family to stay at a hotel in Norco while they found a permanent home. And when they moved into their own place in February, the CalWORKs Housing Support Program helped pay a portion of Brown's rent for the first three months.
"It meant a lot because I knew my children were going to have a bed to sleep in for weeks at a time," she said about the program. Now that she has a job, having a permanent place to call home will help her remain employed.
Riverside County is among 20 counties in the state to receive funding to assist homeless families with immediate housing needs and help them rebuild their lives while they participate in the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program – known as CalWORKs, a federal program designed to help low-income families with financial assistance, employment training, child care and other support.
The county’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) received $1 million of the $20 million available through new funding in the 2014-15 state budget for CalWORKs, California’s version of the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. In Riverside County, nearly 32,000 families receive assistance through the CalWORKs program each year. Of these, about 3,500 were identified as being homeless.
The CalWORKs program provides monthly cash assistance for living expenses for families with children who live at or below poverty. A family of four receiving CalWORKs benefits cannot earn more than $20,964 annually ($1,747 per month). Most adults receiving CalWORKs also participate in the county’s Welfare to Work Program that provides work experience and employment training, education opportunities, child care, transportation and other support to help them find a job and move off of CalWORKs assistance.
Finding affordable housing is a significant barrier for many CalWORKs families. It is difficult for families to focus on finding jobs when they don’t have a roof over their heads and must struggle to provide basic necessities for their children. While the CalWORKs program offers various supports to assist families, such as employment training and child care, housing support has been minimal.
“We know from research and our first-hand experience working with children and families that safe, stable housing is essential to helping families get back on their feet,” said Susan von Zabern, the DPSS director. “This program is critical in assisting families out of poverty.”
According to the latest figures from the Public Policy Institute of California (http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=721), child poverty in Riverside County is 22.1 percent, which is significantly higher than the state’s 16.9 percent rate.
DPSS is partnering with the County of Riverside Housing Authority to identify families receiving CalWORKs that are homeless and offering assistance in finding a permanent place to live. CalWORKs Housing Support Placement (HSP) funding can provide what each family needs for housing, including monthly rental assistance, security deposits, help completing necessary paperwork and searching for a place to live. The Housing Authority also works with local landlords and property owners who are willing to rent to families that may have poor credit or prior evictions.
For more information about the program, please call Brad Force at 951-922-7436.