Madison program aims to bring landlords into effort to end homel - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Madison program aims to bring landlords into effort to end homelessness

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Spring is the time of year shelters for homeless families see a surge in need. This year, those who run the shelters are calling on landlords in Madison to step up to help them end homelessness. 

Shelonda and Byron Smith found themselves in trouble in Milwaukee last spring. 

"When we lost our childcare, we couldn't work," said Shelonda Smith. 

The couple packed up their daughter Storm and left everything behind to start over in Madison, but they couldn't find a place to live. 

"The biggest impediment to me was just getting somebody to rent," Byron told 27 News. "Just getting somebody, just to say yeah, because you keep putting in these $20 application fees, then they say no, and all this is coming out of the money that you have."

The Smiths wound up in the Salvation Army's family shelter, where many others struggle with the same problem. 

In September 2016, the agency created a new program to get landlords involved. Rather than paying for families to stay in hotels, Salvation Army now uses grants to help them get started with a landlord. 

"There's money to house folks and sometimes we'll work with folks for months trying to find one landlord who will be willing to take that person's application and let them stay there," said Social Services Director Melissa Sorensen.

The program has served 73 families since then and most of them have maintained permanent housing, including the Smiths. They got help with their security deposit and a few months of rent, so they could get settled in Madison. 

When they got the call that a landlord would accept them, Shelonda says she broke down. 

"I was in tears, I was in tears," she said.

They've been at their home in Fitchburg just about a year now and feel lucky to have had the opportunity.

"A lot of stuff that we took for granted, we don't take for granted anymore," said Shelonda.

But others still struggle to find a landlord willing to take a chance. 

Sorensen says there are many barriers that put homeless people at the bottom of the list of potential tenants, like poor rental history or landlord references.

"Maybe somebody had a difficult time in their life once and now things have completely turned around and they just need that chance to prove it," she said. 

Now, Salvation Army is working to involve more landlords, sending out flyers to spread the word. 

As more apartment developments are built citywide, the shelters have made progress to tackle homelessness in the Madison area and shelter staff hope they can continue to make a dent in the list of people who've been searching for a home.

"If someone would just be willing to work with an organization, or work with folks, and just give them a chance to prove themselves and let them be able to have a safe place for their children and their families to live," Sorensen told 27 News. 

Helping families who've seen hard times, but have had the opportunity to thrive, like the Smiths.

"Just give someone a chance and if you give them a chance I'll guarantee they'll be a loyal renter for quite a while," said Byron.

Experts say the summer can be a more difficult time for families for a number of reasons. The winter moratorium on utility bill disconnections is over in April, apartment rental leases may end and landlords may not renew contracts.

The Road Home recently closed its shelter for homeless families, citing a drop in need and organizational changes to focus more on housing and case management, to find more permanent options for families. 

Click here for more details of the city's efforts to end homelessness over the years and for links to service organizations. 

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