By Alice Kenny
As housing prices continue rising in New York City while salaries at the low end of the pay scale stagnate, homelessness among working families has hit an all-time high. Augustina and her three toddlers, ages two, three and six, were about to join these homeless ranks.
The young mother’s $50-per-day income from her work as a home health aide had been stretched too thin for too long. Even with food stamps, she could not earn enough to pay for child care, clothing, and her Harlem apartment’s $1100 monthly rent. She owed nearly $12,000 to her landlord.
Homelessness in New York City has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s, according to statistics compiled by the Coalition for the Homeless. January 2013 set an all-time record with 50,100 homeless people. Twelve thousand homeless families including 21,000 homeless children who sleep each night in the New York City municipal shelter system comprise nearly three-quarters of the homeless shelter population. The overwhelming majority of these families holds jobs, such as Augustina, and fall behind in their rent after experiencing sudden medical costs, a death in the family, or loss of a job.
When Augustina first turned for help to the Catholic Charities Eviction Prevention Program she was terrified, she said. She had already been referred from one social service program. It seemed that time had run out.
Fortunately, she met Julissa Matias, site supervisor of the Catholic Charities Eviction Prevention Program at Waverly Job Center.
“It’s very rare that a family comes in that we cannot assist either by getting them FEPs (New York City’s Family Eviction Prevention Supplement) to help cover ongoing rent, obtain funding to cover rental arrears, or help find an apartment they can afford,” Ms. Matias said.
“But paying these families’ arrears is not enough,” she added. “They must be helped on to a sound footing where they can independently meet their future expenses.”
She was determined, she said, to provide this footing for Augustina and her children.
Augustina told Ms. Matias that she had been through hard times throughout her life. She no longer held out hope that anyone would help her.
So when Augustina learned that Catholic Charities would stand by her, she began to sob, Ms. Matias said. Through Catholic Charities Eviction Prevention Program, Ms Matias arranged for Augustina to receive a $2500 grant from a private organization. She helped her successfully apply for $7000 in FEPS funding. She bolstered Augustina’s confidence to ask her extended family for a $4000 loan. And she is using $1100 in Catholic Charities funds to pay back the remaining rental deficit.
Now, thanks to this help, Augustina and her children no longer wake up at night worried they might wind up on the street. They live in an apartment they know is their home.
“I have dealt with a lot of people in human service departments and Ms. Matias is the most professional, helpful, compassionate and kind person I’ve ever encountered,” Augustina said. “She gave me hope when so many gave me despair.”
At Catholic Charities in any given year:
6,981 families are saved from homelessness
1,487 people are placed in temporary or transitional apartments
6,109 families find affordable housing.
Click here to find a Catholic Charities agency that offers eviction prevention services.
Call the Catholic Charities Help Line at 888-744-7900 for assistance finding the services you need.