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MUST takes leadership role in homeless housing challenge

shelter challengeFollowing the “Shelter Challenge,” a statewide initiative to place as many homeless families and individuals as possible in permanent housing, MUST Ministries is taking an ambitious approach. “We plan to house 90 people in 90 days,” said Program VP Rachel Castillo.

MUST is part of a 19-organization collaborative learning initiative led by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The group anticipates promising results as they focus on making shelters more accessible and helping those clients quickly obtain stable housing. The target dates for the challenge are March 15 – June 12.

“For 46 years, MUST has focused on helping our neighbors in poverty. Our vast experience has taught us the significant value of stable housing. Last year, we provided 78,486 safe nights of rest to those in need. Through our Elizabeth Inn Shelter, Permanent Supportive Housing, Veteran’s Housing, Tenant Based Rental Assistance and other programs, MUST is already helping 1,222 a year,” Castillo explained.

But with the current crisis in housing, more must be done, she said. 53,000 people in Georgia are homeless, according to Castillo. That’s why MUST is teaming up with affordable apartment complexes, private landlords and community partners so more people can get a second chance. The largest poverty-focused charity in the area, MUST is working every day to place guests from the 72-bed facility.

Of the almost 30,000 served by MUST annually, 1,500 are living in homelessness and thousands more are in acute financial distress, she said. “Many have been living below the poverty level for years and are on the verge of homelessness.

“Based on the media gross income for households and median rent in Cobb County from the U.S. Census Bureau, 47.73 percent of households who rent in Cobb are overburdened by rent costs. Many of the affordable housing complexes in Cobb have closed and addressing the affordable housing challenge has become critical,” Castillo continued.

“Forty percent of our clients are women and children,” Maurice Speaks, Elizabeth Inn Shelter manager, said, “so we have to work hard to find family housing that’s safe and affordable. Our area is very limited in that capacity, but we have recently negotiated to provide 10 more apartments for the disabled who have been chronically homeless and three of those will be for families.”

In a unique approach, MUST is asking community members to help provide home supplies for these clients. Clients who have little to nothing need linens, toiletries, cleaning kits and microwaves. Anyone who wants to help can drop these items off at the MUST Donation Center at 55 Chastain Road, Suite 110, Kennesaw, and mark them “90 in 90” so they can be given to families who finally have a home.

“If everyone works together, we can identify appropriate housing options and help people get started on their paths to stability, Castillo said, “The whole community can get behind this initiative to end homelessness in our area. This effort will change so many lives.

“We work at it every day, but this emphasis on housing will raise awareness and call people together to network in new ways. MUST wants to help as many people as possible and we look forward to the community support for what we hope to accomplish,” Castillo said. “We can all make our community better.”

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