Homeless to homeowner in Helena, Montana

Doing the Most Good in the Northwest Division

Transforming a vision into reality, The Salvation Army in Helena, Montana, in partnership with the University of Montana Helena College of Technology, has begun a program designed to give homeless families not only shelter when they most need it but also an opportunity to become homeowners.

“Instead of maintaining people at a level of poverty, we are giving people an opportunity to rise to a level of self-sufficiency,” said Lt. Steve Staneart, Helena corps officer.

He explained that the Army wants to do something to help address the problem of homelessness, but is seeking more than a temporary fix.

For the program, six duplexes will be constructed near the Helena Corps. A board—comprised of representatives from groups including the Army, God’s Love, AWARE and Habitat for Humanity, among others—will select applicants based on “perceived likelihood of success.” The target population is homeless families.

“We’re looking for the family who couldn’t afford their electric bill and got evicted,” said Staneart. “We believe that children living on the street are in more urgent need of help.”

The qualifying families will live rent-free for the first month, with rent increasing gradually until they are paying full price. During the five years that they rent, they are provided case management and a “homeowner coach” who will help them with the life skills they need to be successful homeowners. At the end of 60 months, provided they have fulfilled all requirements, they are granted $10,000 for a down payment on a home—thus moving from homeless to homeowner in five years.

The case management and $10,000 grant can be funded through the rental income, making the program sustainable over the long haul. Building materials are purchased with money from private donations, and students from the university’s building construction course do the actual building themselves, receiving a real “hands on” learning experience.

In August, Montana Lt. Governor John Bolinger helped break ground on the first of the duplexes. This pilot program, which has never been done anywhere before, was highlighted by the White House’s Interagency Council of Homelessness in their July 21 newsletter.

To build the first duplex, the Army used $180,000 from a $450,000 grant from the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation. To pay for the other five buildings, the Army will need to raise about $800,000 over the next six years.

“We’re hoping the community will step up to help us with this,” Staneart said, adding that it’s an innovative project geared to assisting local people in need.

Some information obtained from “UM-Helena, Salvation Army launch homeowner program,” by Carolynn Bright, Helena Independent Record, August 21, 2005.

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