Allegheny County to offer financial helping hand to some group home residents

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The Allegheny County Department of Human Services is planning to try something new to help people move out of group homes.

For two years, the department will give $200 a month to 20 Allegheny County residents. The recipients likely will be people who live in group housing but who are able and who want to live on their own. They’d like to leave, but they can’t afford the full market rate to rent their own place somewhere in the county.

“What it causes is backups, or congestion, through the system, so that people are inappropriately stuck in high levels of care. This is true for the mental health system, the intellectual disability system and the homeless system,” said Patricia Valentine, executive deputy director for integrated program services for the department.

She said the waiting list for supported housing for residents with mental illness or intellectual disability is 300 to 400 people.

This is where the county department will step in.

The department will provide a small amount of money, on an ongoing basis, to help people afford market rent so a person who does not need to live in community housing can leave, and so someone else who needs a placement, such as for mental health or intellectual disability support, can receive it.

Marc Cherna, the head of county agency, approved the program earlier this month, Ms. Valentine said.

The cost for a two-year trial program will be $48,000 a year.

At the end of the two years, the department will review the effectiveness of the program, Ms. Valentine said.

“We will see: Does this lead to housing stability for these individuals, or perhaps did some of them actually really need the level of care they were in before?” Ms. Valentine said.

The idea for the shallow rent subsidy program, as it called, grew out of a self-examination of sorts that the county conducted. Late last year, the department asked its staff members to answer a question: What can the department be doing better?

“They work with clients every day, so we wanted them to be able to share their ideas,” said Shannon Fairchild, planning manager for the department. The idea for the rent subsidy came from the local housing options team that meets once a month, Ms. Valentine said.

The monthly $200 should help bridge the gap between low-income wages, or Supplemental Security Income, and the actual cost of rent to help the person afford a place of his own.

She said the monthly amount is less than the $500 to $600 a month it might cost to house people in a community residential facility, where staffing considerations add to the cost.

Details are still being finalized about whom will receive the subsidies and how they will be chosen.

A planning committee will spend the next six months working through those details, Ms. Valentine said.

By January, the department would like to begin placing people in apartments.

Research has shown that stable housing is essential to mental health and to helping a person live successfully in their community.

“If, for $200 a month, we could provide the foundation, it would really be worth it,” said Ms. Valentine.

Then the hope is that once people have the stability of housing and of not having to move every few years, they will feel stable enough to work part time or find a roommate so the rent subsidy will be decreased, she said.

“That’s the goal, and we know that some people will be able to do that over time,” she said.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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