Housing Choice Voucher program ends, city housing ‘crisis’ continues

— Demand for the Housing Choice Voucher program assistance has outpaced supply of the federally funded vouchers, a dilemma that has led the Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership to close its waiting list for applications. The nonprofit will stop taking applications for the vouchers on March 31, 2017.

“We made the hard decision to close the waiting list so we could not create false expectations for families already on the list or those who will want to apply in the future,” Alison Bell, the Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership’s executive director, said in a statement.

The waiting list already has more than 10,000 families because of the limited availability of the vouchers.

Currently, the organization provides about 3,500 families with housing vouchers, paying rental assistance on their behalf. Last year, the program provided about 400 additional families with vouchers and it anticipates helping at least that many this year and in 2018, according to Bell.

“Unfortunately, there are people on our waiting list who may never receive a voucher and the opportunities available through our housing mobility program,” she said. “The federal government gave our program a limited number of vouchers, and although we would love to be able to provide assistance for many more families, we are only able to serve as many as the federal government funds.”

The organization will not consider reopening the voucher waiting list until at least 2020.

Formerly known as the Section 8 program, the Housing Choice Voucher program is federally funded and a locally administered initiative, which helps low-income families, people with disabilities and the elderly to afford housing in the private market. The program provides a housing subsidy on a participant’s behalf to private market landlords to help pay a portion of the rent.

This is the first time the waiting list has ever been closed. Bell noted that placement on the waiting list doesn’t affect a family’s eligibility for any other affordable housing programs. Also, it is separate from the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, which was created by the historic Thompson v. HUD housing desegregation class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 14,000 African-American public housing residents in Baltimore who sought to eradicate the legacy of nearly a century of government-sponsored racial segregation in the region that had left poor Black families locked in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.

A partial settlement was reached in 1996, and the program began serving families in 2003. A final settlement of the lawsuit was approved in November 2012 and set a limit of approximately 4,400 vouchers for the program.

Baltimore families seeking housing can still apply for homes in the city’s public housing complexes even as Bell cautioned that there is a lengthy waiting list there, as well.

New developments being planned will create additional affordable housing units.

“There is clearly an affordable housing crisis in Baltimore and the need far outpaces the availability of affordable, safe housing,” Bell said. “We urge the federal government to consider additional support for the housing voucher program to meet this urgent need both here in Baltimore and around the country.”

Interested families may still pick up an application at the BRHP’s office, which is located at 20 South Charles Street, Suite 801, in Baltimore from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Families may also download an application at www.brhp.org or call BRHP’s application line at 667-207-2102. Mailed applications must be postmarked on or before March 31, 2017.

Singing Sensations captivate audiences in Baltimore and beyond

— Many of the members of the Singing Sensations Youth Choir come from challenging backgrounds. Ranging from five to 18 years old, many of them have triumphed over insurmountable obstacles in the face of poverty. However, despite the difficulties they have experienced so early in their lives, they have a strong desire to sing and perform.

A music teacher assembles them all, and the choir goes on to achieve local, national, and even international acclaim. They have traveled to Africa, Trinidad, Canada and dozens of other destinations to perform. While this reads like a short synopsis of a play or movie, these characters are real, and if a title were given to their real-life production, it would be called the “Singing Sensations Youth Choir directed by Dr. Hollie Hood-Mincey.”

Founder and director of the Singing Sensations Youth Choir, Dr. Hollie Hood-Mincey.

Courtesy Photo

Founder and director of the Singing Sensations Youth Choir, Dr. Hollie Hood-Mincey.

Hood-Mincey founded the choir with the goal of exposing youth in the Baltimore Metropolitan area to the diverse and multifaceted aspects of the performing arts. Today, the Singing Sensations Youth Choir is a nonprofit organization comprised of approximately 50 youth.

Howard “Buddy” Lakins serves as director of music, while Patrick Brown is assistant director. Their repertoire consists of choral, patriotic and pop music, spirituals, show tunes, children and freedom songs, Motown, and songs in different languages.

“It has been a lot of hard work but I have seen our children develop socially, emotionally, academically, professionally, and musically,” Hood-Mincey, a music teacher for Baltimore City Public Schools.

As a teacher at Furman L. Templeton Elementary School, Hood-Mincey worked with students from impoverished neighborhoods and low-income households, who love music. She asked the school’s principal if she could start a choir and was granted her request.

Not long after the choir’s assembly, The Sun Newspaper published an article about the choir written by columnist Gregory Kane.

“People started sending in donations, and we were able to buy instruments, travel and do 22 concerts. We are still going strong today,” said Hood-Mincey.

Hood-Mincey says sponsorship is needed to keep the mission of the organization moving forward.

“My ultimate goal is to take these kids to every continent so they can see the world. I would also like to see them on the Stellar Awards,” she said.

Most recently, the Singing Sensations presented “One Sound, One Season, One Savior,” on Sunday, December 18, 2016 at FCF World Outreach in Owings Mills, Maryland. Hundreds attended the concert and the proceeds benefited the choir’s scholarship fund.

During the concert, a moment of silence was held for a fellow choir member, Noelle Bradford. The 12-year-old Sumter, S.C., resident died tragically in a car accident on Saturday, December 17, while traveling to Baltimore for rehearsal. Johnathan Cruse, 28, who was traveling in the vehicle also perished in the accident. The Singing Sensations Youth Choir sang, “The First Noel” in her memory.

The Christmas concert was one of the organization’s two annual fundraisers. The next will be a Black History Month concert that will take place at Morgan State University in February.

“When people come to see them perform, many ask, ‘How do you keep 50 kids sitting like that?’” said Dr. Hood-Mincey. “I tell them that we teach the children about presence and being excellent. These kids are like my family. Some of these children have lived with me. I fed them, dressed them and took them to school every day as if they were mine. The Singing Sensations Youth Choir is truly a ministry and more than a typical choir.”

The Singing Sensations Youth Choir is always open to additional performers. “We really don’t turn down any children,” she said. “We are trying to build character and confidence. Some of our kids came to us in a shell, and are now some of our best performers.”

Barbara Cooper a dedicated supporter of the choir, is always among their audience.

“They are very inspirational,” said Cooper noting that they were her favorite choir. “They are very well-disciplined children who come from all walks of life. They have some melodious voices. Dr. Hood-Mincey has taken them out of their environment and taken them all over the world.”

Cinnamon Brown-Mack, who also attended the Christmas concert, gave the choir rave reviews.

“The Singing Sensations Youth Choir was amazing,” she said. “I was blessed and inspired by them. Dr. Hollie Hood-Mincey and her vision is truly from God.”

For more information about the choir, visit: www.sensationalsingers.org or call Dr. Hood-Mincey at 443-622-4994.

Volunteer barbers give free haircuts

— Robert Cradle, founder of Rob’s Barbershop Community Foundation (RBCF), knows that a neat and clean appearance an give job seekers, children, students and homeless individuals who are getting back on their feet an extra confidence and image boost.

Through RBCF, a total of 23 projects have been completed to make grooming accessible to people in need of free service. For example, in late August, RBCF installed an on-site barber/beauty shop within Family Recovery Program, Inc.’s new transitional housing facility serving families in Baltimore.

With the help of the Wahl Clipper Corporation— an international industry leader in the manufacture of consumer personal care appliances and products for the professional beauty and barber salon trade— Cradle is taking an innovative step to spread help to additional individuals within the demographic he assists.

Wahl Clipper Corporation has teamed up with RBCF to launch a new project called “Clippers for a Cause.” The program will encourage current barber and beauty school students or recent graduates of these schools, to volunteer their time to provide no-charge haircuts to people who lack access to regular personal care products and grooming services. Prospective volunteers who would like to apply to receive a free pair of Wahl tapering clippers may access a brief online request form via RBCF’s website, www.therbcf.com.

Graduates from barber schools with the last 12 months able to provide a minimum of five haircuts free of charge to the homeless or other disadvantaged may apply to receive Wahl Tapering clippers through the Clippers for a Cause project at www.thercbf.com.

Courtesy Photo/RBCF

Graduates from barber schools with the last 12 months able to provide a minimum of five haircuts free of charge to the homeless or other disadvantaged may apply to receive Wahl Tapering clippers through the Clippers for a Cause project at www.thercbf.com.

“This program [Clippers for a Cause] was created for recently graduated barbers and stylists who have trouble affording a new pair of clippers. This gives them the opportunity to perfect their craft, give back to the community, and receive a Wahl tool for their hard work. The program started in October,” Aaron Flick, marketing associate for the Professional Division at Wahl Clipper Corporation said. “In order to apply, you must be a recent graduate of barber school (within 12 months), as well as provide a minimum of five haircuts (no-charge) to the local homeless population or college students. Barbers are encouraged to fill out an application and will be carefully selected from Robert Cradle. Awardees are selected in the beginning of every month by Robert.”

Flick says that the entire concept originated from Cradle, a master barber and former barbershop owner who created RBCF in 2000. He started RBCF in response to discovering that residents of a local homeless shelter lacked access to affordable grooming products and services.

Cradle further explained that he made a professional connection with Wahl Clipper Corporation, after the company discovered his nonprofit’s website online. Initially, some merchandise was donated to him. An additional offer was made to partner on a project that Cradle would oversee. While establishing plans, Cradle suggested that Wahl Clipper Corporation should target barber and beauty school students, because those individuals may not have too much equipment. Cradle also included college students in the targeted demographic served by barbers and stylists who may participate in Clippers for a Cause, because he imagined that college students may cut each other’s hair. Like homeless individuals, they too may also lack access to grooming service. Cradle even hopes to his install barber/beauty shops at Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) someday.

According to Cradle, the retail price of the Wahl hair clippers is estimated at $45 per unit. Five free tapering clippers have been awarded to barbers so far. Cradle added that barber and beauty school students who travel to homeless shelters on a monthly basis to volunteer to cut hair free of charge, or who may opt to have people come to them, can qualify for the program. Others may commit to serving the homeless and college students for no-charge haircuts, as a part of an upcoming event. Cradle said that he will personally deliver clippers, or ship them to selected applicants who are located any place within the U.S.

Cradle is optimistic that Clippers for a Cause will promote more volunteerism in the barber industry beyond just what he can do on his own.

“For me it’s another way to get make grooming services accessible,” Cradle said. “Up to this point, I’ve put together projects that were installed…, and I did do the case management, and I did do the pop-up shop, but I added this kind of promoting volunteerism type of method, because I have to think of ways to sort of expand what I do in a most cost effective way. So it’s more of like an incentive-based project.”

To find out more about the Clippers for a Cause program requirements or to apply for free tapering clippers, visit: http://therbcf.com/clippersforacause/. Applications will be reviewed until December 31, 2017.