Crestview shelter helps provide housing to more than 80 people experiencing homelessness

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — More than 80 people who were either homeless or facing homelessness have found a secure place to call home in recent months thanks to assistance from the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless (CASH) and its partners.

From May through August, the shelter used close to $100,000 in federal “rapid re-housing” money to pay to house those dozens of people who were dealing with very hard times.

Ann Sprague, the shelter’s president, said the money was used to pay deposits and first and last month’s rent, deposits for water and electric service, and past water and electric bills so some of the folks could make a fresh start, and case management services such as employment and health care assistance.

Porscha Asbury plays with her children (left to right) Gewaun, Prince and Brayden in her new apartment in Crestview. Asbury is one of more than 80 people who the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless has helped find homes.

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The use of the funding follows U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines. The shelter received the money via the Homelessness & Housing Alliance, which is in Mary Esther and serves Okaloosa and Walton counties.

Sprague said most of the people who have been helped by the rapid re-housing program live in apartments. A few live in rented houses or mobile homes.

“The aim was to get them housed safely because of COVID-19, to help them get in a safer environment to help stop the spread of COVID,” Sprague said Thursday.

Before moving into their new homes, several of the people had stayed at one time or another at the homeless shelter at 120 Duggan Ave. Almost all those who received housing have children, Sprague said.

One example is a mother of four who temporarily lost her job because of the pandemic. Her husband’s disability benefits were not enough for the family to live on, Sprague added.

“When she finally got to go back to work she got COVID, and then had to miss three weeks of work,” Sprague said.

Rapid re-housing is offered without preconditions such as employment, income, absence of criminal record, or sobriety, and the resources and services provided are typically tailored to the needs of the person, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Among the many people who the shelter has helped through rapid re-housing is Porscha Asbury, a 24-year-old medical assistant.

Porscha Asbury is one of more than 80 people who have found a home in recent months thanks to the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless.

Asbury has three boys: 3-year-old Gewaun, 2-year-old Prince and 1-year-old Brayden. She said she and her kids had lived in a low-income apartment for four years in Niceville but were facing homelessness because her income increased and she no longer qualified as a low-income tenant.

The shelter helped her find an apartment in Crestview, where she has a 12-month lease.

“My boss had told me about rapid re-housing,” Asbury said Friday. “I was glad to hear about something like this for families in need. I had been constantly looking for another place to live, and was even considering moving to Alabama. Luckily, this one became available.”

Sprague said some of the biggest challenges of housing people are finding places for rent in the area’s high-demand housing market and finding landlords who are willing to help.

Porscha Asbury sits in her Crestview apartment with son, Brayden, as she talks about the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless, which helped her find the apartment.

“Some apartment complexes have 300 units but only one unit available,” she said. “One landlord told me, 'Honey, I have more than 60 applications for one unit. How do I select who gets it?' For most of the landlords, it blows their mind that so many people are looking for housing.”

Some landlords are very strict and won’t rent to people who have a misdemeanor, Sprague said.

“Others have a heart and they believe in second chances” for people with criminal records, she added. “They will give them the benefit of the doubt to start over.”

She also noted that a large number of people “who would really like to get housing” only have Social Security and disability benefits and not enough money to rent a place.

The shelter tries to help some of them get housing with a roommate. However, “some of them don’t play well with others,” Sprague said.

Also, people with a felony record are not able to rent a public housing unit unless they get a roommate, she noted.

Overall, “There are still a lot of people who are still homeless because they don’t have enough income to pay rent and utilities, even though they don’t have a bad background,” Sprague said.

Sprague said the Crestview area has about 300 homeless people: more than 100 of them are individuals without children, and the others make up families.

“I’ve had City Council members and other people saying there’s no way there’s that many in the area,” Sprague said.

Among many other people, the shelter is currently seeking housing for a mother of two kids, one of whom is a 2-month old baby.

“They’ve been sleeping in their car,” Sprague said. “We just met the mother yesterday.”

Landlords who would like to work with the shelter to house folks or learn more about the rapid re-housing program can call the shelter at 850-398-5670.

The 12-bedroom shelter reopened in early August after being closed for more than two weeks because 10 of its clients and three of its staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.

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While the three staff members had been vaccinated before getting sick, none of the 10 clients prior to becoming ill had chosen to receive the vaccine “even though we offered it here at the shelter,” Sprague said.

Each person who was ill has recovered, she said. She said at least two of the clients who had been sick are now being vaccinated.