BRINGING HOME BABY
By John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, SVdP Georgia
Bringing home a new baby should be a joyous event. Not for Sharon. Her husband left her shortly after she returned from the hospital. When her maternity leave ended she was told her job had been eliminated. With two other little girls and a newborn to care for, Sharon searched desperately for a job. She exhausted her savings and then borrowed money from her mother to make ends meet. Finally, faced with an eviction notice she reached out for help from St Vincent de Paul. Two caseworkers met with Sharon in her home to better understand her situation. They helped by paying her rent so she and her 3 little girls could stay in their home. She found a new job and received a promotion a few months later and has been self-sufficient ever since.
Adam, a father of two boys also faced eviction. He left his full-time job to work as a contract employee for a utility company so he could help his wife care for their severely disabled son who requires round the clock medical care. For years he was successful and then suddenly his hours dried up to a fraction of what they were. Adam owed more than two months rent in addition to late fees and eviction court fees. At the suggestion of his landlord, he called one of our helplines and two volunteer caseworkers went to meet his family. They were able to pay all his rent and stop the eviction proceedings. Adam’s contracted hours picked back up and he has been able to provide for his family for the past year.
Just like in these situations, sometimes it just takes a bridge of hope and help to get people from hopelessness to hope, from despair to happiness. That’s often what St. Vincent de Paul does – we are that bridge.
I wish I could tell you that Sharon and Adam’s stories were unique-that hard-working parents don’t face eviction. But I can’t. Once evicted their numbers are not often counted in homeless data because rather than ending up in shelters many “double up” in homes with friends or family. But the fact is that over 17 million households in the United States spend over 50% of their income on housing. As rents continue to rise and wages stay stagnant that number continues to grow. When you spend over half your income on housing you have no savings and are one illness, one job loss, or other disaster away from being homeless. It means you are constantly making choices-between rent and medicine, rent and food, rent and school supplies.
As the first responders to potential evictions in these family housing crises we know that the best solution to homelessness is preventing it in the first place. It is much more effective to keep a family housed than to try to shelter them after eviction and then locate and place them in new permanent housing. That also disrupts family life, work, school, and the emotional well-being of all members of the family; especially the children.
Through rent and mortgage assistance we keep people in their homes and give them the time they need to resolve their own problems. We believe this is the most cost-effective way to address this issue when compared to the brick and mortar and operational costs of providing emergency shelters. Yet, very few federal tax dollars are used in this way. You have to ask why.
Our process is effective and efficient. Last year we answered the call of over 129,000 people who came to us for help. We provided more than $14.0 million in financial and material support; including over $3.2 million dollars in assistance to prevent the evictions of over 8,000 families. We are the ones called when people have exhausted all their resources and eviction is imminent, time is of the essence, and emotions are running high. We are the ones who respond compassionately in person and quickly assess the situations, negotiate with landlords, and help people design a short -term solution to keep them in their home. We hand deliver rent checks and within hours another crisis is averted and another family will go to sleep knowing they will have a home in the morning. What we do may not be flashy or the latest ‘idea of the month’ to address homelessness (actually we’ve been keeping from becoming homeless for over 155 years in Georgia). But it is some of the most important work going on to stop a lot of homelessness where it starts; in homes where families face crisis.