Help for homeless harder to come by

2010-02-19T15:42:00Z Help for homeless harder to come byBy COLLEEN KENNEY / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
February 19, 2010 3:42 pm  • 

Chris Webster has been helping homeless people for six years, most recently as a homeless outreach specialist for Lincoln Public Schools, a newly created job paid for with stimulus money.

In November, he heard about Byll and Tiffany Dale from a social worker at BryanLGH Medical Center East, who told him the family was living in their car in the hospital's parking garage.

Webster, a big, hairy guy with tattoos, met them in the hospital cafeteria, and they clicked.

The Dales told him he reminded them of Dane Cook, the comedian. (Since then, Kaiden Dale, 2, says "Hi, Dane!" whenever he sees him.)

Webster, 28, did triage. He got Colt Dale, 8, signed up for school and for free school lunches. He helped get the family a room at the People's City Mission. He helped get Kaiden signed up for early Head Start. He tried to get them on every list for housing assistance.

"They are the new poor, homeless only because of the economy," he says. "These are the people who at the beginning of the 2000s might have been on the edge or in the middle class. These are the people who never thought they'd be in the position they're in today."

The Dales faced more challenges than many other homeless families. They were from out of state, so they didn't know where to go for help, or even how to navigate Lincoln. And they'd never been homeless, so they didn't know what resources were available.

Plus, they were dealing with Tiffany Dale's serious kidney condition, and a baby on the way.

It's a bad time to be homeless, Webster says, and a bad time to be an advocate for homeless people. A few years back, he could get housing assistance for families like theirs in a matter of weeks. Now, he says, it's more like 10 months to a year.

"I see people like them working so hard, as hard or much harder than myself at times. There are so many obstacles in place, and just not enough money. Tons of demand. My phone never stops ringing."

He rubs the stubble on his chin.

He loves his job. But he's sick of telling people there's a waiting list.

As of December, he says, there were about 750 homeless kids within LPS.

He tried to get the Dales on the list for the federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which is for people like them who are not chronically homeless. The program is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that President Barack Obama signed a year ago. Its goal is to get people back on their feet quickly instead of giving them intensive case management.

But the program is not for people with medical issues, so the Dales didn't qualify.

Then Tiffany's doctor gave them a letter saying she did not want the baby, who was born prematurely, to go home to the mission.

Webster gave the letter to the federal re-housing program and the folks there said they'd consider putting the family on the list.

Sometimes when you hear the word no, Webster says, you have to finesse a yes.

And in his line of work, he says, you have to keep from growing cynical. You have to keep treating people like people.

Reach Colleen Kenney at 473-2655 or ckenney@journalstar.com.

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