Liz Kline surrounds herself with pictures on the walls of her efficiency apartment.
Smiling faces of her family at various important life milestones remind her of those people she has tried to keep in contact with, despite struggles through the last year that left her in the Faith Mission as of August 2011.
But then, as she says, she got a gift from God — in the form of an apartment through the Permanent Supportive Housing program, a joint effort between Oaklawn and LaCasa that helps to give homeless individuals a place to call home.
“It’s God’s will that I’m here,” she said in her apartment in the housing structure. “Goshen is a place of refuge in the Bible, and that’s what I found here.”
Kline, 50, is a recovering addict who found herself in northern Indiana nearly a year ago, though she’s originally from Pennsylvania. Unable to stay with family, she went to Elkhart for the Faith Mission, living there for four months before Oaklawn selected her for Permanent Supportive Housing.
“This Permanent Supportive Housing makes you feel secure,” she said. “This, and my belief in God.”
Six months in
The project has been a success, according to Gregg Nussbaum, the vice president of Adult Services for Oaklawn, which oversees Permanent Supportive Housing.
“For a new program, things have gone relatively well,” Nussbaum said. “We’re placing a focus on teaching people to be good tenants and how to keep a home.”
The property, located on Lincoln Avenue in what used to be the Goshen Housing Authority structure, houses 14 tenants, with an additional space used for an office. Oaklawn provides services through staff members helping tenants with problems, Nussbaum said.
Originally, only Care Facilitator Kerisa Butler helped the tenants one day a week, but a recent addition of full-time Skills Specialist Leslie Appenzeller will give the tenants someone to turn to daily.
“When everyone got there, they knew each other from the Mission,” Butler said of the project’s beginnings. “They were expecting the drama from the Mission to travel with them. As time went on, I’ve seen a real sense of community — they are forming a community. They want to do the lawn care, they have made gardens.”
While the transition has had its fair share of hiccups, the 14 tenants are proving successful.
“We had a small grease fire in one of the apartments in April,” Butler said. “But it was put out quickly, and the tenant was able to stay with another tenant for the three days his apartment was being repaired. They’re that sort of community.”
The good will and peaceful living environment extends to the neighborhood surrounding the Permanent Supportive Housing apartment building, according to Butler.
“They’re getting along with other local residents,” she said. “One of our guys even mowed the lawn for a nearby neighbor.”
Nussbaum said this echoes the goal of the program — getting these individuals at a stable place in society.
“We really want them to be a part of the community,” he said.
Making a home
If you drive by the apartment building, you’ll probably notice a produce garden growing near the back lawn, as well as a flower garden near one of the apartments.
That’s Kline’s work. She loves to grow things, and she’s spread her talent throughout her own flower beds and the garden, hopefully providing fresh fruits and vegetables later in the growing season for all of the tenants.
“Next year we’ll have a strawberry patch,” she said, giving a tour of the growing area. “We’ve also got a picnic bench where we sit and feed the animals.”
The gardening is something she’s always done.
“It brings everyone together. It’s peaceful,” she said.
Kline walked back toward her flower garden near her apartment door. She pointed to the ground.
“Do you see the cross there?” she asked. She traced it with her fingers in the air. Made out of white impatiens planted in the ground, the cross is very visible. “I made that. He got me here.”
Walking inside her apartment, Kline sat down in her living room area on a well-cared-for sofa.
“I was able to get all of this from consignment, or resale shops,” she said, gesturing to her apartment. “Not all of the apartments are as well decorated as mine. Some people don’t even have things on the walls. But we’re all improving.”
How it’s paid for
Nussbaum said the inspiration for the program came out of a 2009 discussion with staff from the Corporation for Supportive Housing, an organization focusing on projects like Permanent Supportive Housing throughout the nation.
Around that time, CSH staff opened an Indiana branch of their organization, and they reached out to Nussbaum to possibly work on a project, he said.
“I knew I needed to get people with housing, as well as developmental and other services, all together to pull off the project,” Nussbaum said. “Here at Oaklawn, we can provide psychiatric and addiction services, but housing is not one of our primary services.”
With this in mind, Nussbaum said he contacted Larry Gautsche, president of LaCasa Inc, to create a partnership for the project. People from both organizations went through training for six months to prepare themselves to plan and run the Permanent Supportive Housing project.
Through the training and planning stages, the organizers were able to find a way to pay for the monthly rent and expenses at least partially through Shelter Plus Care (S+C), a program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Nussbaum said. All of the tenants receive S+C funds.
The program funds can be used in a variety of ways, according to HUD’s website. It focuses on providing a long-term basis of support for homeless people with disabilities, such as mental illness or chronic drug problems.
Nussbaum said they were able to identify between 100 and 125 homeless people in Elkhart County at any one time who could fit the requirements for Permanent Supportive Housing. Though only 14 units have been built, there is continued discussion for additional units in the future, he said.
“The programs are first come, first served,” he said. “We had more people apply than we had spots.”
What’s next for the residents?
A major positive feature of the Permanent Supportive Housing program is the stability to look for other ways to benefit her life, according to Kline.
“Now that I’ve got this, I can afford it,” Kline said. “I can keep it up. This is my first chance to breathe.”
Kline said she will turn to new programs, such as the Clubhouse of Elkhart County, which recently opened in Goshen.
The Clubhouse is a non-profit organization that provides those with mental illness and other disabilities the opportunity to learn new skills, according to a May 31 Goshen News article.
“They can help me learn new computer skills, and find a way to make the most of the hours I can work under disability,” she said.
Kline also recently completed a discipleship program. Her next goal is to buy a car.
“I want to give back to Goshen, which has helped me so much,” she said. “I want to find a way to do that.”
Appenzeller, who will begin full-time at the Lincoln Avenue apartments soon, said she will teach the tenants whatever they need to continue to succeed.
“I’ll teach them anything from cooking and cleaning to setting up a budget,” she said. “I’ll go to each one, and I’ll find out what they need.”
Appenzeller said the job can be difficult when people are hesitant at first to try new things, but she enjoys helping.
“I like seeing people able to improve themselves,” she said.
Nussbaum said he’s appreciated donations made to the program.
“The one thing we don’t want them to do is to go back to a homeless situation,” he said. “We’re pleased with the response from the Goshen community. They’re very welcoming.”
Whatever happens in the future, Kline said she is grateful for the chance to better herself.
With tears in her eyes, she said, “I don’t know why they chose me — but I’m so lucky.”
Liz Kline surrounds herself with pictures on the walls of her efficiency apartment.
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