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In late September, when fall weather had just begun to settle into Western New York, a young Rhode Island couple and their four children found themselves homeless and hopeless.

"If it had not been for DEPTH, I don't know where we would have gone or where we would be right now," Ron Hendricks said.

Instead of Hendricks' being forced to accept a bed in one homeless shelter and Katie Jones and their four little ones in another shelter, the family is in its own apartment. The few pieces of furniture are secondhand, but that didn't bother three charged-up little guys the other day. They happily tumbled on the floor around a gaily decorated Christmas tree.

The lack of furniture doesn't bother Hendricks, either.

"DEPTH (Demonstration Employment Project Training and Housing) gave us the chance we were looking for. We are together. I am going to school learning a trade, and I know it's going to be an OK Christmas for the kids and that we have a future to look forward to," he said.

Because of DEPTH, a program for the homeless, 124 singles and families will not be sleeping in shelters this holiday season.

DEPTH, still in its first year, is designed to find a permanent cure for the homeless or those in danger of being pushed onto the streets. It helps them find shelter, training and, finally, employment. The program, which is seeking money to stay alive a second year, is supported by a $559,610 federal grant and $283,000 worth of in-kind services from other programs that focus on the homeless.

Surveys show that Erie County has more than 7,500 people who are homeless at one time or another during the year.

Some have mental, alcohol or substance-abuse problems. Others are school dropouts or lack job skills.

But all share the same problem -- they need a place to live.

DEPTH provides not only a roof but also services that could lead to stability and financial independence.

"It takes a lot of determination on the part of the individual," said Sheila Levis, DEPTH director. "And they have to want to make the change in their lives."

Hendricks says he left his hometown of Providence, R.I., "because I was doing nothing constructive there, the situation around us wasn't good, and I knew that we had to go someplace different where we could get a fresh start if we were ever going to make it."

Ms. Jones said they chose Buffalo because her stepsister here offered them a place to stay until "we could get on our feet."

They packed everything they owned into a box and, in August, got on a Greyhound bus for Buffalo.

But their problems didn't disappear. Hendricks had hoped to get into a technical school but met frustration. With little education and few skills, job opportunities were minimal. Two families living in one house frayed nerves.

"Finally, one night, it was just all too much, and my stepsister told us to get out," Ms. Jones said.

The next morning, they found their way to the Community Action Organization, an anti-poverty agency.

"It was just lucky for us that Gary Matthews (a case manager for DEPTH) happened to be there and heard what was going on," Hendricks said. "The CAO people were going to put us into homeless shelters, and he stepped in and offered to help."

The family was placed in a hotel immediately.

Once the family moved to an apartment, Hendricks was accepted into a Board of Cooperative Educational Services' welding program and began taking adult-education courses for a high school equivalency diploma.

At the same time, the family was helped through the maze of applications for Social Services assistance, food stamps, medical examinations and counseling.

Hendricks will complete his welding classes in March and "should have no trouble finding a job," Ms. Levis said. "He is doing very well, and BOCES has a 95 percent job-placement record."

Of Ms. Jones, the DEPTH director said, "We are talking about how we can get her back into school at least one night a week so she can get her high school diploma."

The young mother smiled, and talked about her dream "to someday be able to go to school and be a nurse."

DEPTH is preparing a funding application for a second year. Of the 46 funded nationwide for a first year, no more than 30 will receive money for a second year. The decision is expected sometime in March.

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