Family Crisis Centers housing division team

Family Crisis Centers staff Stefanie Behrens and Steve Hallgren have seen an increased demand in homelessness prevention services since the program began last year.

SIOUX CENTER—Family Crisis Centers has made a name for itself by working to provide for the needs of victims of domestic violence. The Sioux Center-based organization hopes to put lessons learned from that work to help those from the wider public who are or are at risk of becoming homeless.

Stefanie Behrens, FCC housing and economic development coordinator, said when working with those facing domestic violence situations, FCC learned that people need housing to be successful in other areas of their lives.

It used to be that assistance in housing acted as an incentive, requiring people to get their lives and finances in order before they could get housing assistance. A housing-first approach flips that.

“This one said, no, you are successful when you are housed more than anything else,” Behrens said.

FCC took that concept to a wider audience when Steve Hallgren was hired in October, becoming the director of FCC’s new homelessness programs and services.

FCC’s homeless and homelessness prevention housing services are open to any individual or family who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in its 10-county service area.

FCC offers two programs to assist these people: homelessness prevention and homeless rapid rehousing.

Homelessness prevention is a program that helps clients who are at risk of being evicted, providing clients with short-term rent and utility assistance to keep the client from having to move to an emergency shelter or becoming homeless.

“It’s a unique program that has come out of federal stimulus funding packages,” Hallgren said. “This program allows us to pay back-rent for people who’ve gotten behind up to six months.”

This program helps those in rental apartments, rental houses, trailers, manufactured units or other rental dwellings. It cannot assist with payments for purchase on contract or mortgage payments for housing.

Rapid rehousing for general homelessness is open to any individual or family who is homeless in FCC’s 10-county service area, including Sioux County. This program is intended to find safe, stable and suitable permanent housing for individuals or families who are homeless. This refers to people living in a location that is not suitable for human habitation, such as their car, a garage or on the street.

Services under rapid rehousing include assistance finding affordable housing, financial assistance for rent, deposits, moving expenses and ongoing support.

“We’ve seen across the board growth in housing needs,” Hallgren said. “I didn’t know what to expect because it was new, and we started at a baseline of zero in November. By December, I had my first homeless rapid rehousing client and we had maybe five or six in December for homeless prevention.

“Since then, we’ve seen phenomenal growth for the number of clients we’ve served in both of those programs. It’s really taken off. It just reiterates to me the underlying need for these types of programs.”

According to his numbers, his department helped 60 people in April.

To better serve clients, another person has even been hired to work in his department.

Government and market responses to the coronavirus pandemic resulted in employment disruptions for many of the clients Hallgren works with.

”It might be furloughed, they might have eventually came back, but when you’re furloughed two or three months and you’re not getting paid anything, you still have to pay for lights and electricity and child care,” Hallgren said. “People were choosing to pay for groceries and living essentials over rent and utilities, which you can’t fault them for that. But that’s where we can step in and have a program to help with that.”

While things like the eviction moratorium are still in place, it only delays the due date when a hefty amount of rent is due. With that in mind, partnering with landlords has been a key part of the program.

“We have gotten quite a few referrals from the landlords themselves. They or one of their tenants hears about the program and then we can provide the assistance,” Hallgren said, adding that the program benefits the landlords by providing up to six months of back-rent. “We’re here and we’re available. There are still people living in Sioux County, O’Brien, Lyon and Plymouth or wherever that they might be struggling and don’t know who to reach out to. For a long time, FCC has been synonymous with domestic violence and we do provide those services, but this is something in addition to it.”

Those wanting to find out more about FCC’s homeless and homelessness prevention programs can go to familycrisiscenters.org or call at 712-722-4404.