Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris, left, and Rainbow Village CEO Nancy Yancey greet U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall as the congressman from Lawrenceville visits the Duluth nonprofit Monday. (Staff Photo: Camie Young)
DULUTH — Over the past two decades, Rainbow Village has helped moret han 750 people leave a life of homelessness.
But recent federal mandates have changed the culture for many of those that the program aims to serve, the nonprofit’s staff members told U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall on Monday.
While Woodall questioned whether the current economic situation had affected the need for the service, leaders instead said the trouble has come more from the federal policies.
“There seems to be a trend to move from the transitional housing model to the rapid-rehousing model. We find that doesn’t work,” said John Smith, the chief operating officer of the Duluth-based nonprofit, which currently houses a dozen families.
After fine-tuning the methods over the past 22 years, the program’s covenants place a strong responsibility on the client for integrity and accountability, Smith said. But recently regulations form the government, expressed in grant applications, seem want to do away with the accountability requirement.
“Rainbow Village is becoming more and more a rare program in light of the way the trend is going with the homeless situation in America,” Smith said, adding that the requirements to complete classes on topics from parenting and financial responsibility to health and wellness help clients not only become self-sufficient but break the cycle of homelessness in future generations.
“When we are successful, it is something to behold,” he said.
With only about a quarter of the nonprofit’s $890,000 annual budget coming from grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials said they rely mostly on private donations and volunteers for programs like after-school care, support groups and classes.
And while the calls for service have remained relatively stable despite the downturn in the economy, Director Nancy Yancey said the face of the homeless has changed, with many people even with master’s degrees experiencing “situational poverty” as opposed to “generational poverty.”
Lynnette Ward, a graduate of Rainbow Village who is now the nonprofit’s community resources director, said she has also seen the drop in a level of accountability, which she attributed to the government’s extension of unemployment benefits without requirements to look for jobs.
“The accountability is no joke, but I needed that” she said of the requirements of the program. “Being homeless is not a goal … but it takes a lot to walk in and say I need help.”
While Woodall asked if the support from the community could be emulated elsewhere, board member Frank Rinker said Rainbow Village should be modeled across the country.
“It’ll do this country a world of good,” Rinker said. “This works, and it’s money well spent.”