Faces of the Housing Resource Center

Posted On September 17, 2013 By | No Comments on Faces of the Housing Resource Center

When you think homeless, what is the first face you see? Take a moment and answer honestly. Did you think of a young woman living in poverty and trying to raise her infant child? Did you think of an elderly veteran who suffers from PTSD and lives in chronic pain from a wartime injury? Did you think of an entire family that encountered challenges in the recession and lost their stable middle-class income?

The range of feelings when encountering homelessness in our lives can be wide and varied. At different times you might feel uncomfortable, scared, sorry, disgusted, compassionate, understanding, frustrated, indignant, upset, or any other number of emotions.

Do you assign blame? And, if so, where? People? On the system? Or is it more complicated?

At the COTS Housing Resource Center, we’ve found the answers are rarely simple. The complexities surrounding the issues of why people become homeless and how to best serve them are abundant. But navigating these challenges is what our HRC specialists do best.

The COTS Housing Resource Center (HRC) is our homeless prevention initiative. The HRC helps people who are at-risk of losing their homes retain their housing and to more rapidly re-house those who have lost their housing.

Often times, in our culture, we look for a reason or justification for something bad to have happened to a person: She’s homeless because she mismanaged her money; he’s homeless because he’s addicted to substances; that family is homeless because the parents were careless, and so on.

Assigning this kind of blame is never helpful and doesn’t tell the whole story. So why do we it? Sometimes it’s easier to live alongside people who are struggling if we can explain away their troubles in a way that shields us from reproach. Maybe we are afraid it could happen to us.

We all lose a sense of our own housing security if our neighbor evicted next door had done everything he was supposed to do, but just couldn’t keep up with rent payments after getting hurt at work and discovering his worker’s comp payments wouldn’t cover his living expenses.

We want to give you a few “pictures” of some of the faces we see coming through our doors.  We want to educate you on who is really struggling to make ends meet in our community.  Don’t be surprised if the faces are not what you were expecting.

Greer Family*

Mr. Greer earned a six-figure salary before the recession hit. Mrs. Greer was a stay-at-home mom looking after two children under age 10. Mr. Greer’s business failed, and he couldn’t find work. The Greers went bankrupt trying to cover living expenses. He and his family were forced to move out of their home.

They lived in a tent in Chittenden County for months. With the help of the HRC and a family caseworker, the Greers are now employed, have created a sustainable budget, and moved into a two-bedroom apartment.

Sarah

Sararh is a medical professional who made an upper middle class income. After a serious illness, Sarah was left permanently unable to work. She had worker’s compensation to help make ends meet, but this was a significant downgrade from her previous income. In addition, in order to keep her worker’s compensation, she was required to apply for Social Security Disability, and once she was granted that, she stopped receiving worker’s compensation. That left here with an even more reduced income.

She wasn’t homeless when she came to the HRC for help, but she was struggling to come to terms with her illness, her loss of a career and her drastically reduced income. She submitted a back-rent application and worked on a new budget with an HRC specialist. Sarah successfully re-adjusted her living expenses to make her smaller budget work for her. With her new budget and the back-rent grant, Sarah was able to keep her housing.

Erica

Erica is a single mom with one child. She works full time in the medical field. She was slightly over-income to qualify for the HRC’s typical back-rent assistance. One criteria of a typical back-rent grant is that the recipient must be 50% median income. This also meant she was ineligible for 3SquaresVT (food stamps) and many other government assistance programs.

Erica fell behind financially because the father of her child stopped paying child support. AmeriCorps Housing Specialist Brent Cohen stresses, “It’s really difficult for single mothers to be able to work and support their kids, even if you only have one child. Child care is expensive, and transportation is expensive; housing is expensive.”

The challenge Erica was facing was that the loss of income wouldn’t be coming back, and there wasn’t a lot of room in her budget to make cuts. With help from the HRC though, Erica got a second chance to catch up on back rent through some private HRC funds, with the plan to track down the father for child support and to get a second job. The HRC can only help people with a plan to expand their current income because if you fell behind in the first place, without additional revenue, there’s nothing to stop that from happening again.

Erica is an example of the working poor. She spends a lot of time working and doesn’t qualify for many state subsidies and grants — yet she still doesn’t make enough income to be secure. It’s a case of barely making it work. But with HRC assistance, she was able to catch up on her rent and keep her housing.

Frank

Frank is a veteran with a traumatic brain injury. He is on disability and has his veteran’s pension. He lives in a public housing unit with subsidized rent. Due to past problems managing his money, when Frank arrived at the HRC he had accrued significant back-rent on his housing.

An HRC specialist helped connect Frank to a payee that would help him manage his money and to negotiate a repayment plan on the back-rent he owed. The HRC helped coordinate a solution between Vermont Legal Aid, VA case management, and the housing authority to accept a new repayment plan with the added support of a payee.

*Names have been changed to protect client privacy.

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Special thanks to VHCB AmeriCorps State member and COTS Housing Resource Specialist Brent Cohen for providing insights into the programs and services of the Housing Resource Center.

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Categories: Homeless Prevention, Homelessness, Housing, Veterans
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