In her work as the service navigator for Catholic Charities, Liddy Bargar said she sees lots of women who need stable housing, though they may not be homeless by official definition.
“They might not be considered literally homeless, because they have a place to stay for a night or two,” Bargar said. “That’s jamming up these women when they look to qualify with help finding housing.”
The Department of Social Services and not-for-profits have rules they must follow about who qualifies for financial assistance, rules handed down by federal and state agencies which give them funding. People who are couch-surfing don’t qualify for much of this assistance.
The women she was seeing, Bargar said, often did not feel secure staying at the shelter or were in otherwise uncomfortable situations. One example she gave is a woman in recovery, who was staying with her adult child.
“She was welcome to stay as long as she wanted,” Bargar said, “but didn’t feel it was a safe place for her at that point. We want to be a place where people can use their own judgment about why they’re here.”
Bargar hopes to help women find some stability in their housing situation with a new home sponsored by Catholic Charities, called “A Place to Stay.”
The downtown, four-bedroom home was recently renovated and features glossy, hardwood floors downstairs and two full, spacious bathrooms. Bargar has been furnishing it with the help of donations and drivers from Love Knows No Bounds since Catholic Charities took over the lease at the beginning of May.
The name is a nod to women’s rooming houses that operated in the days when checking into a hotel wasn’t an option for traveling, single women.
This Place to Stay will have a focus on getting women settled into new digs and independent living, ideally within three months.
“It sounds like a short time, but with some support I think it’s doable,” Bargar said. “I’d love to let people stay forever, but we want to serve as many people as are qualified.”
So far, the program is funded by grants unencumbered by state and federal requirements, including one from the Women’s Building Community Fund, formerly Women’s Community Building, giving flexibility in who can take advantage of the place.
Women will pay for their stay with any rental subsidies they might get, or 30 percent of their net income, up to $400 a month. Bargar said she, along with staff provided by Americorps and volunteers, would be focusing on what they’re calling “rental stewardship.” That includes the basics of home maintenance, and also the basics of talking to landlords. Many people she works with, Bargar said, had one bad experience with a landlord, and now won’t speak to whoever owns their home under any conditions—the heater breaking down in wintertime included.
Someone will be at the Place to Stay house from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., six days per week, but the women will have house keys, cook their own meals, and otherwise operate as self-sufficient people. Bargar said when interviewing potential tenants, she’s been looking for “people who have three goals they’re working on.”
Volunteer work and projects will take up some of the women’s time. The home will be decorated and improved by those who live there. Sewing some curtains and couch covers and some raised-bed gardening in the ample backyard are a couple of projects Bargar has in mind.
For now, A Place to Stay will not be for children. Without 24/7 staffing, “insurance recommended we try it for a year,” Bargar said, as a pilot program. It is a drug- and alcohol-free house; it’s not a safe house for victims of domestic abuse, but is “discreet,” Bargar said.
Call Catholic Charities for more information: (607) 272-5062