A Watertown organization that helps provide transitional housing to homeless families in the community is currently looking for a home itself.
Crossroads House of Watertown, an organization providing emergency housing and related services to families in transition with the basic needs of shelter and personal support, has found itself without a place to house those in need.
The two houses the organization used as rental properties for families with children for up to 12 months, are no longer available.
“I get 1-2 phone calls a week of somebody that is looking for a place it live and we don’t have a place they can live,” said Crossroads House chairwoman Joyce Hughes said. “I feel so badly we can’t help them.”
Since it began in January 2001, the organization had one home at 109 E. Jones St. and in 2017 was gifted another at 113 E. Jones St. Both properties are owned by the city and upon inspection in October by city staff had some issues including the presence of lead in some of the paint near the windows, according to Crossroads House Board of Directors President Tom Levi.
Exposure to lead can harm a child’s health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, learning and behavior problems and speech and hearing problems which may result in lower IQ, decreased ability to pay attention and under-performance in school, according to the CDC. If the home was built before 1978, when lead based paints were banned by the federal government, it could release lead-contaminated dust, the most common cause for lead poisoning.
The city, as owners of the property, was concerned with having residents in the homes, according to Mayor Emily McFarland. With the lease having ended in December, the city determined now was the best time to move on.
“Unfortunately, it was deduced by city staff that we were not comfortable having residents in them,” McFarland said. “We want to serve the population, but this is not a mechanism we can use anymore.”
Although Crossroads could have hired a contractor to evaluate the levels of lead in the buildings, it was determined to not be cost effective, according to Levi. Now, the organization is in the process of finding a new home.
“We’re looking at various sources to get a house,” Levi said. “Hopefully we could offer some cash or get it gifted.”
Crossroads House’s various programs have been widely used by the homeless residents of Watertown.
“We’ve had at least one family every year since we started and sometimes even two because some stay less than a year,” Hughes said, adding that they have housed a total of 22 families in the homes.
The home works as a place for those in need to live while learning how to pay rent, keep utilities bills down and also to solve other issues that plague some members of the homeless community including, drug use and other problems. One rule of the home is the group must have children, although the rule has been broken in extraordinary circumstances Levi said.
Once in the home, Crossroads require the family to work with a certified caseworker who will help them set up goals and achieving them, according to Levi.
“This is a hand up, not a hand out. They have to work at setting up goals and achieving them,” Levi said.
The residents do not pay rent for the first two months of residency and once they enter the third month is goes up by $35 a month for the subsequent months up to 10 months. The family would also pay utilities of $45 a month starting with the first month.
This rent does not go to waste either as the group puts the rental money into an escrow account for the family to use towards their next rental once out of the home. By using the service, it gives the family a successful history of paying rent and utilities while also helping them move forward.
“They have a leg up when they go into the real world because they can say they have a history of paying rent,” Levi said.
Crossroads also provides two other programs: entry assistance and rental assistance. Entry assistance helps families with paying their first month’s rent, which can be paid up to roughly $400, though the group hasn’t had the need to go so high. Rental assistance helps them avoid eviction. These programs can be used by the family for three months consecutively, but then cannot be used for a year.
“We had the house for a few years and we decided we could help in more ways,” Hughes said. “We’re the bridge between their need and them finding new employment or getting back to work.”
These programs have helped over 900 people including 303 families and 542 children, according to Hughes.
The group earns most of its funding through gifts and donations from churches, organizations and the public, while also receiving some funding through United Way. The group makes about two thirds of its roughly $16,000 annual budget through donations, gifts and fundraising, according to Levi.
Although the group is in a hard place without a home to service people, it is still committed due to the struggles of homelessness Jefferson County is facing. This issue is caused for a number of different reasons including the lack of affordable housing, unemployment or underemployment, the number of children a homeless family may have and if the family had been evicted, according to Levi. Levi feels the programs of Crossroads House is the right model for small to medium communities in need of help.
“We have found our model works. We have been doing this for 18 years and we would like to distribute it to the state,” Levi said. “(We) have a model with a proven track record.”
Now, the organization is just seeking a place to be able to put all the people that come to them for help. Although the group does send those in need to their partner, the Community Action Coalition of Jefferson County, they would prefer if they could give them something more.
“We need another place for these families to go,” Hughes said. “I feel badly for the families we had lined (up) to go in there.”
Levi said the organization will not stop its pursuit for a new facility for families.
“We’re motivated by children and in some cases the parents make bad decisions and the children are uprooted and they suffer,” Levi said.
“We’re not giving up finding a home to replace the two we lost.”
The two buildings will be demolished for parking space near City Hall, according to McFarland. No timetable was given for this project.
Direct donations to Crossroads can be sent to P.O. Box 432, Watertown, WI 53094.