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A Bridge to Somewhere Offered N.Y.C.'s Homeless

WHAT'S one of the cheapest and perhaps best ways to help the homeless?

Possibly a direct rent subsidy.

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At least that appears to be the experience of a pilot program designed by the Coalition for the Homeless. Called the Rental Assistance Program (RAP), the effort gives checks of up to $200 a month to help with the rent. The money is usually combined with $215 a month in federal Public Assistance.

The RAP effort, which is privately funded and on Dec. 29 received a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is geared toward people on the streets, in shelters, and coming out of drug rehabilitation. However, it also includes people squeezed into small apartments with either family or friends. Many of these people eventually end up on the streets.

The HUD grant, which is for three years, allows the Coalition to expand the program to fifty homeless singles. It will also reunite twenty women with their children who are in foster care.

``RAP is designed to get them on their feet and off the program as soon as possible,'' says David Giffen, New York director of the Coalition, which limits the participants to two years on RAP. So far, out of 42 homeless in the experiment, seven have graduated, 11 have been terminated, and 22 are still participating. Two moved to other cities.

The Coalition combines the rental subsidy with counseling from a case worker and social worker. The recipient must agree to work toward specific goals such as obtaining a high school diploma or entering a job-training program. ``We're the bridge back to life,'' says program director Donna James.

This was certainly the case for Teronia Campbell, a recovering drug addict. After she graduated from a drug-treatment center and got a job, Ms. Campbell still did not have enough money to pay the rent for an apartment for herself and her two children. Afraid she would have to live on the streets, she called the Coalition, which enrolled her in the program. ``I got a life,'' she says simply.

The program also helped Michelle Plair and her son move out of her grandmother's apartment and into her own place in Brooklyn. ``It was a lot of problems,'' she says of her time sharing a room with her son. She is now enrolled in a nursing program.

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RAP is also helping Theresa and Cheryl Johnson meet the rent while they try to begin a day-care center, Provide a Mother. If it were not for the RAP program, Theresa says the pair would be homeless. ``When you don't have anything, $200 is a lot of money,'' she says.

City officials support the RAP-type effort. ``It's perfect for someone out of employment, maybe coming out of a shelter and now looking for housing,'' says Stefan Russo, the city's assistant commissioner for community affairs. An individual earning $5 to $7 per hour likely cannot afford the rent on an apartment, he notes, and needs a subsidy.

This spring the city will begin the process of starting its own RAP-type program. It will contract out the service. The coalition is expected to be among the bidders for the contract.

The $200 per month seems like a bargain compared to what New York often spends. It costs the city $3,000 per month to house a family in a welfare hotel and $1,500 per month to keep a family in a shelter.

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