Even in sickness, poverty, 20 emerge from homelessness in Kent Center program
The Kent Center’s housing division recognized the successful graduations of all 20 of their homeless clients to stable tenancy following participation in RoadHome, a program that aids in the housing and recovery of individuals with mental illnesses, behavioral issues and histories of substance abuse.
The recognition breakfast, held Monday at the West Warwick Senior Center, featured housing services for officials and partners of the RoadHome program, including Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and officials from the office of Governor Chafee.
With torrential showers battering the Senior Center, as the lights above faintly flickered, dimmed and pulsed, not even distant lightning strikes nor thunder booms could deter the smiles of the 60 or so attendees. Despite the threatening weather, it was “a wonderful way to start a week. Or even a year,” said David Lauterbach, CEO of the Kent Center.
Two clients, Ken Jordan and Marie Ingarro, were recognized for their achievements in RoadHome – “great strides,” read the Kent Center press release – in overcoming not only homelessness and poverty but also drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness and personal strife.
These were certainly strides, but Jordan said, “I just call it, ‘My life’s gotten better,’” in an interview. “They gave me time to straighten myself out. Now, I want to help others do the same thing, get them on their feet and in the program.”
Jordan, who was homeless for four months and taking in only $200 a month in public assistance and living in a Cranston shelter, became involved with the Kent Center in May 2009 for help with his substance and mental health problems – until he was referred to the housing division.
After enrolling in RoadHome, he signed a lease that required him to forfeit $60 per month for rent and utilities. “It took some time to get me off the street,” he said.
After 10 months of improvement and tenancy, he’s more than grateful of the Kent Center’s staff.
“Everybody’s great,” he said. “They do a darn good job. These people care. You’re not just a number or a case file.”
Ingarro lived under the threat of foreclosure and a difficult relationship when she sought the help of Kent Center services in 2009. Once evicted from her home, she struggled to find even a shelter to call her own, staying for short periods in hospitals and hotels.
Once the Kent Center housing office became aware of her homelessness, Marie enrolled in the RoadHome program in December 2009. With stable housing and time to recover, she often spends her time at the Hillsgrove House in mental health rehabilitation, and has joined the Kent County YMCA.
“Every staff member in these programs has been beyond awesome,” said Marie during the ceremony. “They understand how terrifying it is to face homelessness.”
Just weeks prior to Monday’s event, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law the nation’s first “Homeless Bill of Rights,” which provides safeguards while banning discrimination of homeless people in employment, housing opportunities and services. Whitehouse recognized the law in his address at the ceremony, which was met by boisterous applause.
Rhode Island Housing’s executive director Richard Godfrey, who spoke following Jordan and Ingarro’s stirring acceptance speeches, expressed faith in the goal of making the Ocean State the first in the country to “eliminate” homelessness. In a “fight on many fronts,” and despite the many challenges that solving such a problem poses, Godfrey shows hope for the future.
“Today, we see the  faces of success,” he said.
Godfrey pointed out that the funding and housing vouchers that float homeless and primary care services, like those run and designed by the Kent Center, are essential not only in building lasting lives for families and individuals but also paramount to the state’s economy.
For example, he said, RI Housing worked with 364 individuals and families in 2011. “To provide services cost around $10,000 per individual in government funds,” said Godfrey. By housing all of those clients, he figured that it could potentially save “$3.64 million per year.”
Sen. Reed and Sen. Whitehouse spoke shortly before helping in the presentation of citations to the program’s 20 housing achievers, calling upon their efforts in Washington to direct and increase funding for housing services.
Before going on to play a heavenly tune on his acoustic guitar, Ken Jordan had a bit of divine intervention to thank.
“Whoever is responsible for RoadHome must be a Godsend, because it’s been a Godsend for me,” said Jordan.