Centre County uses Emergency Rental Assistance Program to address ‘homeless crisis’

Abby Drey/adrey@centredaily.com
·3 min read

Centre County is experiencing a “homeless crisis,” an issue that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a county official told commissioners on Tuesday.

The county has seen an increase of people who are struggling to secure housing due to costs or availability, Faith Ryan, adult services director in Centre County’s human services department, said during Tuesday’s Centre County Commissioners meeting. The county has been able to use the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help people without housing.

“We’ve also been using ERAP to address the homeless crisis,” Ryan said. “...Our homeless shelters have been at or beyond capacity for many months, and we’ve been sheltering close to 45 to 55 households at any given time in a hotel.”

Behind the scenes, adult services is reaching out to the maxed-out providers and finding ways to provide additional case management to people in a homeless situation. They’re not required to provide case management through ERAP, but Ryan said if they can provide additional services she hopes it can help people move out of shelters.

It’s also up to the hotel owner and the hotel company as to whether people who are homeless stay there. As hotels get busier, it’s possible they won’t extend stays regardless of what the county pays.

”So this is not a forever, it can’t be a forever situation,” Ryan said. “But we’ve gotten hit with it pretty hard and we’re just trying to take it kind of day by day.”

She said the “tsunami” of evictions that was expected during the pandemic did not happen. Instead, that tsunami has been with homelessness.

The board of commissioners took action to place three adult services contracts onto next week’s consent agenda, including two related to ERAP.

One contract is with Interfaith Human Services to provide emergency heating assistance to eligible Centre County residents through ERAP. The contract total is $100,000, which is federally funded Jan. 1 through April 30.

“We, of course, are seeing more people contact us with a heating crisis. So because of the level of need that we’re experiencing, having the high rate of expedited cases that we are already trying to push through, we have made an arrangement with Interfaith that if somebody is experiencing a heating crisis, whether they come through our department or contact them directly, that ERAP was just another option for them to use,” Ryan said.

If someone is at a quarter tank or below and temperatures are freezing, Interfaith would work their vendor to provide the service. ERAP 2 can provide up to 18 months total of assistance.

If winter weather extends beyond April and there is a need beyond $100,000, adult services will look into additional funds for it, which would be available again through ERAP. The challenge, Ryan said, will be working together to ensure people haven’t exhausted the benefits.

Another was a contract renewal with Service Access and Management, Inc. to provide administrative assistance services for ERAP 1 and 2. The contract total is $7.9 million, also federally funded Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

At the end of December 2021, adult services has exceeded $5.7 million in both direct services and admin costs in ERAP. To date, it’s helped approximately 1,000 households in Centre County.

For more information on ERAP, homelessness resources or adult services through Centre County, visit https://centrecountypa.gov/308/Adult-Services or call 814-355-6768. For more information on Interfaith Human Services, visit https://www.interfaithhumanservices.org, email info@interfaithhumanservices.org or call 814-234–7731.

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