For nearly a year I have served as the Assistant Director of Asset Management for ONE|NB. I am honored to have been tasked with overseeing the ONE|NB Continuum of Care Program (CoC). The concept is simple: Housing First. The CoC provides permanent supportive housing to those who have experienced chronic or long-term homelessness. The implementation, well that is a different ball game!
In 2018 ONE|NB committed to setting-aside 25% of its one-bedroom apartments for supportive housing. To be successful we know we needed a social service partner who has experience in working with the chronically homeless, and that we needed rental subsidies for the apartments as it would be impossible for these persons to afford full rent (our one-bedroom apartments cost on average $600 a month – very affordable but still out of reach for extremely low-income persons). We approached RI Vivienda and asked how we could become a part of the CoC. In 2019 after much planning and negotiating, we entered into a rental assistance contract with RI Housing and memorandum of understanding with Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC) to be our service provider. We thought the complicated part was over, but it was just beginning.
But before I explain the challenges, let me say – I fell in love with the program after attending my first lease signing. When I sat in on the lease-signing with MR (CoC Resident) I experienced a genuine sense of relief and joy. MR was transitioning from 2 plus years of homelessness to a beautiful, well-maintained 1-bedroom apartment in the Elmwood neighborhood of Providence. As she signed the “dotted” line of her lease agreement she paused and just cried, not from sadness, but for hope. These moments make the hard days and tough lessons along the way worth every bit of frustration I have experienced.
If I were to summarize my experience with the CoC program over the past year in three words they would be: Communication, Opportunity, and Commitment.
Strong communication is a valuable skill in almost all aspects of life and that is especially true for the Continuum of Care program. Our partnerships with Rhode Island Housing, our property management company – First Realty Management (FRM), and our supportive service provider – Providence Community Health Centers (PCHC) has been invaluable in our effort to provide a safe, well-maintained apartment for persons who have experienced chronic homelessness. All partnerships are inherently predicated on a “give and take” formula and the CoC program has challenged that formula in many ways. It has challenged ONE|NB to advocate for and with chronically homeless persons, it challenged FRM’s flexibility with standard leasing practices and residential services, and it has challenged PCHC to care for these persons in a capacity far greater than medical services.
My experience with the CoC program has engrained in me the importance of frequent and open communication. I lack experience in social or case management work and this program has exposed me to both. This experience has allowed me to understand and appreciate the passion, dedication and patience that is required to help persons who have experienced homelessness. Our partnership with PCHC has experienced its own set of challenges to overcome and we have come a long way in providing a robust housing stabilization and supportive services program. The challenges stemmed from a difference in perspectives, one perspective lived in the realm of providing housing, the other perspective lived in the realm of providing medical services. Likewise, communication with our property manager, FRM, has been critical in the coordination of the unique lease-up process that requires them to look beyond traditional barriers to approving an applicant for housing – such as history of eviction, poor credit, and criminal background.
I love a good challenge and I love the CoC Program. Over the past year I have put on several hats; a social worker, case manager and even that of a resident services coordinator. It has been challenging. It has tested my passion and commitment. But it has also given me the opportunity to grow professionally, expanded my knowledge of the work I enjoy and given me a renewed sense of commitment for the mission and vision of ONE|NB.
A year ago, I would have summarized the Continuum of Care program as simply a housing program. Today, I would say that the Continuum of Care program is ONE|NB’s response to the homelessness crisis in RI. With the help of our funders and partners, RI Housing, Providence Community Health Centers, and First Realty Management, ONE|NB is tackling the homelessness crisis head-on and providing safe, stable, affordable housing and supportive services to persons who need just one more shot. ONE|NB is committed to making it a fair shot!
By Antonio A. Rodriguez, Assistant Director of Asset Management