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Matt Talbot

Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach will soon begin finding and renting apartments for Lincoln's chronically homeless population.

Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach, which has long served hot meals to the homeless during the day, will soon offer them something warm at night, too.

Beds.

The nonprofit announced Monday its role in an ambitious plan to end homelessness in Lincoln -- finding and renting apartments for 18 chronically homeless individuals and families, who are often battling addiction and mental illness.

Matt Talbot will take what it calls a no-questions-asked, housing-first approach, meaning it won’t require drug or alcohol testing, or even a commitment to abstain. The goal is to get someone a permanent home first, and then provide the services they need after, said Susanne Blue, Matt Talbot’s executive director.

The chronically homeless can better deal with their problems from a safe and stable home, she said.

“How can you work on your recovery without having a place to rest your head at night?”

Matt Talbot hopes to find and fill the 18 one- and two-bedroom apartments in the next six months, but its initiative to end homelessness in Lincoln started more than a year ago, said Eric Dinger, a Matt Talbot board member.

The nonprofit had been successful in feeding the hungry, and providing outreach services, and had amassed an army of about 1,200 volunteers.

But Dinger and others -- including Matt Talbot directors and staff, city officials, educators, business leaders and the Lincoln Homeless Coalition -- wanted to see how they could move Matt Talbot forward.

They formed a team, and they heard about other cities that had claimed to end homelessness.

They liked the sound of that. “Man, that’s a cool thing to say: ‘We’ve ended homelessness,’” Dinger said.

It doesn’t mean homelessness goes away; rather, it means a city has more permanent beds available than it does chronically homeless people.

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Lincoln isn’t there yet. At the end of September, there were 110 permanent housing beds -- all of them always full -- but still 143 chronically homeless, according to Matt Talbot.

“These are folks who are in the most difficult situations,” said Jeff Chambers, director of UNL’s Center on Children, Families and the Law. They’re also the most difficult to find housing for, he added.

Matt Talbot will use an annual $200,000 federal Housing and Urban Development grant to try to change that. It hired a housing locator to work with landlords to find available apartments, Blue said, and hopes to fill the first few units by the end of the year.

“The biggest challenge is finding affordable apartments,” she said. “Definitely there’s a need, but we need people willing to take a few risks on clients.”

Matt Talbot will pay the rent indefinitely, she said. And it will build a contingency fund to help protect landlords, paying them for damage to their property or for outstanding utility bills, for instance.

“We step up, clean it all up, make things right for the landlord,” Blue said.

The type of housing Matt Talbot is offering, called permanent supportive housing, is the most effective solution for reducing future homelessness, Chambers said. Among 46 people who moved out of permanent supportive housing in Lincoln, 39 had not returned to homelessness after two years.

That’s 85 percent, he said: “A tremendous success.”

Matt Talbot won’t be alone in its efforts. At Monday’s announcement, Region V Services housing specialist John Turner said his agency would provide 60 permanent supportive housing units over the next three years.

Add to those CenterPointe’s 30 beds, and Lincoln will be 108 homes closer to ending homeless.

“We believe it’s possible,” Blue said. “And we have to. It’s that hope that keeps us going.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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Peter Salter is a reporter.

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