With the help of the Salvation Army of Dane County’s new program, the Dane County Board and other organizations, a growing number of formerly homeless families now have affordable housing in the area.

The program, Dane County Assists with New Starts, follows the Housing First model. This means the program takes those who are experiencing homelessness and moves them directly into an apartment, Director of Salvation Army Social Services Melissa Sorensen said. DAWNS focuses on families and helped its first family move into a house in September 2016.

Sorensen said sometimes even those with income struggle to find housing because some landlords are not willing to give them a chance or because they have a poor housing history. This is the first time landlords have agreed to work with the Salvation Army like this, she said.

“[The families] don’t need to have an income, they can have a poor housing history, they can have a criminal history,” Sorensen said. “None of that is factored in if they are eligible for the program.”

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Sorensen said the Salvation Army has provided case management in the past that helps families find units in the community for as long as they need it. But they have never been able to move people directly into units until now.

The Salvation Army assists families with paying the first couple months of rent. Once the family is stable, they graduate out of the program and pay on their own, Sorensen said. About six of the 17 families who have been helped by the program so far are paying their own rent and are self-sufficient, she said. 

“[DAWNS] has been successful so far, and we’re really hoping to be able to expand the program further and continue it on by providing affordable units,” Sorensen said.

Dane County is assisting with DAWNS’ funding, Sorensen said. The county is providing nearly $208,000, and the total amount of funding from all sources is about $300,000.

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Previously, the Salvation Army had 90-day semipermanent housing available, but they often had to turn families away because there was not enough room, County Supervisor Hayley Young, District 5, said. Now the Salvation Army’s focus has shifted to getting families into permanent housing, she said.

By converting into a rapid rehousing program and expanding its emergency overnight shelter space, no families have been turned away, Young said.

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“It’s a really positive thing for the county to be involved with,” Young said. “People are trying to find creative ways to build affordable housing in Dane County, and they are committed to working creatively with the resources we have available.”

Dane County Board approved a resolution earlier in February to end family homelessness in the area. The proposal looks to find redevelopment opportunities for homeless day resource centers. Young said there needs to be more affordable housing in the area.

Sorensen said having more affordable housing would be “huge” for the community.

“I think as a community we need more affordable housing,” Sorensen said. “I think that’s the biggest barrier for everyone — our vacancy rate is low and the apartments that are being created are often unaffordable for some of the people we work with.”