In late January 2022 Hawthorne Homeless Services Coordinator Dulce Medina met her client at the front door of a modest, well-kept cottage, and welcomed him to his new home. Inside, Medina directed the young man to the kitchen where he met the property owner, who showed him around. Then the two took pen in hand and signed lease documents.
It was the final action needed to bring a person experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. “I am so happy and grateful for this home and now I will be able to just ride my bike to the train [light-rail] station to go to a job,” the tenant said upon receiving the keys.
The January signing used the first of 67 rent vouchers awarded to Hawthorne through a federal housing program known as “Emergency Housing Vouchers” (EHV). The program received significant funding in March, 2021 through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) by providing 70,000 housing choice vouchers to local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) nationwide. The purpose is to assist individuals and families who are homeless, or at-risk of becoming homeless, are fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking, or who were recently homeless or have a high risk of housing instability.
Dulce Medina, homeless services coordinator and CES (Coordinated Entry Services) case manager for the city of Hawthorne, is a passionate foot soldier in the local fight against homelessness. “My goal is to advocate for my clients, to motivate them and help them visualize a better future for themselves,” Medina explained.
Through hard work, Medina has brought three clients into permanent housing since the vouchers were allocated last June. Within the next several months, she expects 14 more will sign leases. It is a long, 12-step that typically takes six months for each case. It starts when Medina submits paperwork known as a housing voucher interest assessment. First the client must be matched to a housing authority, and then the wait begins for a Section-8 voucher to be awarded.
The remaining steps involve informational briefings with the client and finding an available and appropriate housing unit and willing property owner/landlord. One of the most challenging hurdles for clients is a credit check. However even if this fails, Medina will continue working with each client to find housing. The process enters the home stretch after a unit is found and the client passes property owner protocols. A Request for Tenancy (RTA) packet is signed by both the landlord and tenant and submitted to the housing authority for unit inspection and approval. Once the housing authority approves the housing unit, a lease date is set and the lease is signed, the client receives the keys and moves in.
While EHVs pay a portion of the rent, they do not pay the security deposit. This can be a huge barrier for participants, according to Ronson Chu, senior manager, South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG) Homeless and Senior Services. If no other funding canbe found, the SBCCOG, through its Client Aid program, can assist EHV holders with not only the security deposit, but also the application and document process fees.
Follow-up case management is usually done for up to six months. Medina will link the client to other services and programs as needed to ensure the client thrives in the new environment.
The Hawthorne Housing Emergency Voucher Program is a community partnership. The city has a contract with St. Margaret’s Center, operated by Catholic Charities, to provide homeless services, case management and coordination. Training and funding for client aid is provided by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), which also requires the city to use the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a secure online database that provides access to resources and housing and tracks case management activities.
While there are three main components needed to transition a person from unhoused to housed (client, a landlord and a home), a major ingredient is compassion on the part of all. While some housing authorities provide lease signing bonuses to property owners, the Hawthorne program does not. The primary motivating factor is knowledge of helping someone turn their life around and get back on their feet.
“The ultimate goal is to help another human—who happens to be experiencing homelessness—get off the streets. With consistent case management and a listening ear, all is possible,” Medina said. •
For more information regarding the city of Hawthorne EHV and other housing programs, visit https://www.cityofhawthorne.org/departments/housing.