Client Spotlight: James Birt & Housed-Up Inc.
Grant Applied For: ARC INSPIRE
Grant Funding Awarded: $50,000
In 2019, James Birt, a West Virginia native, founded Housed-Up Inc., a Fayette County-based nonprofit dedicated to launching permanent housing and support for people in recovery and experiencing homelessness.
For Birt, this project was personal: He, too, had recently transitioned out of homelessness.
“I wanted to use my homeless experience to make a positive impact in my community,” Birt said.
Early on, he noticed a gap in resources for people experiencing homelessness in his community.
“Many of the programs that exist for the homeless population (in our area) is to get them their immediate needs like food, shelter, water, clothes, and a warm place to sleep,” Birt said. “While that is crucial and needed, this project (Housed-Up Inc.) is actually giving them a place to live and call home while we work with them on their case. Working on a case-by-case basis, we can help them establish their permanent residence and income..”
Bridging those gaps required support and funding opportunities — something Birt was unfamiliar with but dedicated to finding.
In 2022, Birt applied for technical support from the West Virginia Grant Resource Centers, a partnership between Marshall and West Virginia University (WVU) that provides cost-free grant writing technical support and training to West Virginians as they compete for funding opportunities.
Prior to working with the grant centers, Birt said his grant writing knowledge was limited to what he’d learned from online courses, webinars, and conversations with grant writers. Still, he was unsure where to begin.
“I had spent about a year and a half gathering information and collecting data on how to build this program out,” Birt said. “Once I had established a solid plan, I started searching for funding for the project and was quickly overwhelmed and confused about the process.”
As his project took shape, Birt attended a grant centers’ Grants 101 workshops, a five-hour-long course for West Virginians interested in elevating their grant writing skills and proposals. The workshops are co-hosted by grant writing experts who cover in-depth all facets of the process, including: building community capacity and impact, seeking and finding grants, building project narratives, maximizing community partnerships, developing a budget and budget narrative, matching funds and maximizing sustainability, drafting letters of intent, and reviewing.
He said the experience was “tough, but enlightening.”
“It has really helped put my thought process in writing a competitive proposal in a better space,” Birt said. “The course has been an opportunity to benefit me and my nonprofit in pursuing competitive grants by showing me insights that grant reviewers look for.”
Birt said it was encouraging to find support tailored to Housed-Up Inc.’s specific needs, specifically with data collection and analysis.
“I had really dug deep to find the core data for the housing issues in the proposal, but they were able to dig deeper on demographics to really tell the story,” Birt said. “I was really impressed with the data they were able to collect, and the way they were able to use it to make a very compelling case for our project, it was perfect.”
Some of the findings, Birt recalled, included data citing the high prevalence of co-occurring mental disorders, including Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Factoring this information into the equation, the grant centers identified Housed-Up Inc. as an eligible applicant for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) INvestments Supporting Partnerships In Recovery Ecosystems (INSPIRE) Initiative, which aims to support workforce re-entry and development opportunities for individuals in recovery who have been impacted by SUD.
In September 2023, Housed-Up Inc. was awarded $50,000 from the ARC INSPIRE Initiative to support property acquisition, feasibility studies, five reports and plans, a construction cost statement, conceptual designs, a policies and procedures manual, and a master plan.
“I have appreciated every moment of it,” Birt said of his experience working with the centers. “It was great to be able to share ideas with other people that see the value in the work that you are doing, and want to contribute. It’s like having an assistant and a mentor at the same time, they do a lot of the heavy lifting and will walk you through it.”
Birt said he has been “beyond satisfied” with the results of the partnership so far, and he feels confident that the tools the grant centers added to his tool kit will help him compete for and secure funding again in the future.
“The knowledge they (the grant centers) provide gets you up to speed and plugged into the grant world,” he said. “With the things we’ve learned through the centers, we’re able to look for project funding in more places, feel more comfortable with the grant process, and we have a firm understanding of how to pursue project funding.”
The West Virginia Grant Resource Centers are a collaborative partnership between Marshall University and West Virginia University dedicated to assisting West Virginians in developing competitive grant applications. Our efforts are focused on the pre-award process, providing applicants with support to identify funding opportunities, assemble compelling proposals, and submit completed application packages.