Family Transitional Housing Gets Overhaul Under New Agency

By Johnny Caputo

Zacchaeus Housing Solutions is a new transitional housing program being initiated by the West Side Catholic Center, located at 3135 Lorain Avenue, at the corner of W. 32nd and Lorain Avenue. The name Zacchaeus derives from a biblical story of a corrupt tax collector who, upon the sight of Jesus, reformed his ways and promised to pay back double all that he had stolen. The West Side Catholic Center hopes to tap into this spirit of self-initiated improvement by incorporating their program into their already extensive services for homeless families.

The program that became known as Zacchaeus Housing Solutions was formerly known as Family Transitional Housing. Due to financial instabilities, FTS had to close its doors last year. In taking over this program, the West Side Catholic Center is providing those within its Women and Children’s shelter the opportunity to leave the shelter and establish a home of their own.

Departing from the operations of Family Transitional Housing, which maintained five centralized, agency-owned transitional housing units, Zacchaeus does not own any of the housing that its clients live in. Clients choose housing in neighborhoods they would like to live in. Then Zacchaeus works with the landlords of these properties to establish a mutually beneficial relationship, so the clients can become self-sustaining.

In order to be admitted into the program, clients must go through an interview process. According to the West Side Catholic Center’s website, “Priority for acceptance is given to those individuals who can sustain employment or financial resources necessary to be self-sufficient within 12 to 24 months.” However, what is unprecedented about this program is that there are very few hoops that clients must jump through in order to be accepted. The only true requirement, according to Gerry Skotch, director of the West Side Catholic Center, is that clients must be willing to take the initiative to better their lives. The program is centered around providing clients with the tools necessary to escape homelessness by allowing clients to change their lives for the better.

Once accepted, clients work with the Zacchaeus staff which includes: two case managers, a life skills manager, a youth case manager, and an intake/leasing/landlord specialist to find property where they would like to live. Clients pay 30 percent of their income towards their rent and the rest is subsidized by Zacchaeus. If the client has no income, Zacchaeus will pay their rent.

Instead of taking on the double duty of property maintenance and case management, Zacchaeus focuses on the case management side of transitional housing. This allows case workers to be advocates for their clients. The responsibility for housing maintenance falls on the landlords, which gives Zacchaeus case workers the opportunity to fight for the best interests of their clients.

Previously, in the centralized Family Transitional Housing unit, clients left the centralized location and were provided with services to find permanent housing. Zacchaeus completely skips that step by allowing its successful clients to remain in their homes permanently, without any switch.

So far, Zacchaeus Housing Solutions has provided 32 families with subsidized housing. These families include more than 130 people who would otherwise be living in shelters. Mr. Skotch hopes that by year’s end that number will have increased to forty families and over 150 people. One hundred and fifty people who are now empowered by hope; one hundred and fifty people who took the initiative to make their world a better place, just like Zacchaeus.

For more information on this and other programs of the West Side Catholic Center, visit their website at www.wsccenter.org

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #87 in July 2009 Cleveland Ohio