In 2018, Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority (PMHA) and Shawnee Family Health Center set out on a mission to provide a new housing structure in Portsmouth that would create a supportive housing initiative for mental health and those aging out of foster care.
The groups battled through a funding campaign, a pandemic, supply issues, but recently held an emotional opening and ribbon cutting event last Friday, where they showed off an impressive new unit, nestled in the hillsides of Hisle Park, that holds 45 units.
The result of the hard work is the first permanent supportive housing facility for vulnerable transitional age youth, ages 18-24, and young families in southern Ohio.
Initially, the group called the project Hisle Park out of respect for the Hisle Park that was there before. However, after communication with namesake Larry Hisle, Major League Baseball player and hitting coach, it became clear that the name was much more inspirational for their services than originally thought.
“It was just amazing. I mean, to finally see everything come together and to get to see Mr. Hisle’s face, it was just priceless. We simply asked if we could use his name, because the area had been known as Larry Hisle Park,” PMHA Executive Director Peggy Rice said. “So, we reached out to him, but the more you talked with him, he really did become an inspiration to the project. He really dedicated his life to the same type of kids in Milwaukee that we’re trying to work with here. To see him come back, it truly was amazing.”
There were nearly 100 guests at the opening, with an over-filled parking lot, lined roadway, and parking being made along Thomas Avenue.
Hisle was there for the ribbon cutting, along with family. He gave a moving speech where he supported the cause and called the project “the greatest honor ever bestowed upon me.”
Some of the guests included the major partners from PMHA and Shawnee Family Health Services, as well as representatives from J.D Vance’s office and Robert Sprague’s office, Ohio Housing Finance Agency, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, RiverHills Bank, Federal Home Loan Bank, mental health service providers, CAO, news outlets, various businesses, elected officials and more.
The units break down to 25 one-bedroom units, 17 two-bedroom units, and three three-bedroom units.
“There are some specific measurements within the OHFA nine percent tax credit deal that you can work with and we chose the bedroom sizes based on some of the information we gathered through our focus groups,” Rice explained. “I can put someone and their family in a unit that is too big for them, but I can’t put someone and their family in a unit that is too small, and there is something like 32 percent of the kids coming through foster care come out with kids of their own and the last thing we wanted was to not serve someone, because the size just wasn’t big enough. Two of our three bedrooms are already full.”
One-third of the site is already occupied, and Rice says that there are around 20 applications currently verified.
“Right now, it is a matter of getting the documentation together—birth certificates, social security cards, proof of income,” Rice claimed. “We will be leasing again next week.”
Since the desired population of tenants are typically considered at risk, the groups have created an achievable pricing structure for those youth inhabitants.
“It is a low-income housing tax credit property, which comes with income guidelines, but we packaged it with project-based vouchers— vouchers that the housing authority had. So, it will be 30 percent of your income and the housing authority voucher will make up the difference between rent and your 30 percent,” Rice said. “A lot of the kids who have moved in have little to no income, but I believe two of them who have moved in have already gotten jobs.”
While PMHA was a major organizer in the project getting developed, Shawnee Family Health Center is of utmost importance to the partnership. The organization will be providing many services, including diagnostic assessments, individual and group counseling, employment services, case management, transportation, crisis intervention, GED support, assistance with development of independent living skills, primary care services, and more.
The crisis intervention and mental health services are vital to the success of the occupants, but Rice is also excited by the additional life skills being taught.
“They will be coordinating things like workforce development, making sure they complete their high school education, matching them up with job programs,” Rice explained. “They will be doing things like teaching classes on cooking, cleaning, laundry and parenting classes. Everyone will work with a case manager and classes will be built based on needs they feel need addressed at the time.”
The idea of the work is to create an environment for youth to become independent, obtain employment, and be able to effectively manage daily stressors and emotional issues so that they can move to less restrictive housing. It is for youth ages 18-24, who are aging out of foster care, are homeless or risk homelessness, or living in unsafe situations.
Security was a major concern made by potential residents in the planning process. So, the group set out to create a supportive and safe environment, including 24-7 on-site monitors at the front desk, magnetic doors needing key fobs for access, security cameras at the common room areas, and camera monitoring along the building perimeter and entrances.
According to Rice, the habitants are already getting along.
“While we were doing our thing with the ribbon cutting out front, the kids have a garden they were working on out back. The kids are already working together,” Rice said. “We have one of the kids living there who is from the county and used to gardening, so he was showing his city friends how to garden. It is just amazing.”
Rice said that qualifying residents can make inquiries to Shawnee Family Health, where the onboarding is being processed. They are at 901 Washington Street and can be reached at 740.354.7702. Just scratching the surface of it already, I think we’re seeing some amazing things. I hope I’m wrong. I hope I get to a day where I can look and see that the site is no longer needed. I’m confident, though, that with everything going on in Portsmouth, even after I’m gone, there will be people there to ensure it continues and accomplishes what it needs.”
Reach Joseph Pratt at (740) 353-3101, by email at [email protected], © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved