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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Advocate Tiffany Myers (from right) laughs Friday as Ronnie Ismon signs a lease for an apartment with help from Cassie Snider, public housing specialist with the Fayetteville Housing Authority, at Hillcrest Towers in Fayetteville. Ismon was homeless for almost 20 years before securing housing with Myers' help.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Making the leap from homeless to housed takes more than putting down a deposit and signing a piece of paper.

Tiffany Myers knows this. For the past year, she has helped Ronnie Inmon, a 38-year-old with speech and mental disabilities, go from 20 years of living in the woods to having his first apartment.

The position

The housing navigator will serve as an advocate for clients and as a representative of the Fayetteville Housing Authority with landlords, the community and Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care members. The position will require an ability to work with the authority’s voucher program team, landlords, community partners and Housing Authority customers and staff.

Source: Staff report

Inmon's story is indicative of a larger trend in Northwest Arkansas and the nation, according to housing officials. Barriers as simple as not being able to get an ID can derail someone's progress.

The Fayetteville Housing Authority has created a position in response. The housing navigator will help people who have a hard time finding a home. Perhaps most importantly, that person will specialize in talking to landlords to get them to accept housing vouchers.

Inmon moved into an apartment at Hillcrest Towers on Friday. The 12-story, 120-unit public-housing structure downtown was built for older and disabled residents. Inmon found a spot in public housing, but other lower-income or disabled residents seek vouchers from the federal government in order to live in privately owned dwellings.

Historically known as Section 8, the Housing Authority manages about 600 such vouchers for people living in apartments. Residents living in the voucher program pay a portion of the rent, usually 30 percent of their adjusted income.

At any one time, about 15 to 20 people with vouchers in hand are looking for a place. Holding a voucher doesn't do any good if a property owner won't take it.

That's why the Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care, a regional coalition of agencies targeting homelessness, has turned its head toward closing the gap, Executive Director Steve Burt said. This summer, Fayetteville First United Presbyterian Church provided the continuum a $10,000 grant to establish a landlord incentive fund.

Basically, the fund serves as an attempt to allay a landlord's fears, Burt said. A property owner could make a claim if a tenant damages the property more than what a deposit would cover.

"We would walk alongside the landlord and suggest that if you have any problems with this person, we've got your back," Burt said.

The landlord would need a point of contact, which is where the housing navigator position comes in. Social service case workers are overworked as it is, and the Housing Authority's new position will be able to provide specialized support by being knowledgeable in real estate, Interim Director Angela Belford said.

"The case managers will certainly keep working with their clients," she said. "But, when they need an extra pair of hands on deck -- someone who will have already established those relationships -- I expect this person will be very active with the Continuum of Care."

Belford also serves as board chairwoman of the Continuum of Care, a role she had before becoming Housing Authority interim director in late October. The idea for a housing navigator came up during Belford's time with the continuum.

Using a combination of reserve and operational revenue, Belford saw the authority had the capacity to bring the role to fruition. The person hired will have the benefit of working with the authority's voucher program team, she said.

"In the path of housing, there's this giant leap from 'I've gotten a voucher,' and then there's a big chasm you have to cross to get to 'I've been housed,'" Belford said.

Having a housing navigator working in the city should also provide relief to volunteer advocates, such as Myers. Inmon has schizoaffective disorder, the symptoms of which include delusions and difficulty communicating.

Such a condition can make applying for disability or housing impossible, Myers said. While working three jobs herself, Myers helped Inmon get a case manager from Ozark Guidance. Because of that, Inmon was approved for Tier 3 Medicaid, and will have a 24-hour caregiver.

"People don't know what a struggle it's been to try to get him help," Myers said.

Myers sat with Inmon at the Housing Authority office on Friday as he signed stacks of paper associated with moving into his new place.

Inmon listened intently as public-housing specialist Cassie Snider read to him the terms of his lease. It was the standard arrangement -- when the pest control sprays are, where to take the garbage, the pet policy -- but Inmon sat in attention. When Snider handed him the keys to his new apartment, he was downright glowing.

Inmon said he was looking forward to getting settled in.

Coincidentally, Inmon's birthday is in a few days. Friday's move served as a sort of early gift.

Myers said she hopes the stories of people like Inmon will get more attention. She posted a GoFundMe and a Craigslist ad seeking donations for Inmon but got no response.

Myers said she's glad to see organizations such as the Housing Authority and Continuum of Care taking a collaborative approach. The authority hopes to hire someone for the navigator position by the end of the year.

"I'm so super excited that this is coming full circle," Myers said. "There's some sort of hope for people who are homeless."

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Ronnie Ismon (left) shows off the keys to his new apartment Friday alongside his advocate, Tiffany Myers, after signing a lease for an apartment at Hillcrest Towers in Fayetteville. Ismon was homeless for almost 20 years before securing housing with Myers' help.

NW News on 12/08/2018

***The story was updated to clarify Angela Belford's role with Continuum of Care.

Print Headline: Agencies work to support housing transitions

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