Program Offers Timely Aid to Needy
With bills mounting for more than a year and an eviction notice staring her in the face, Denise was on the verge of being homeless, and at a loss for a solution.
“I was stressed so bad, I was sick,” the Southern Pines mother of two said. “I was getting about three hours of sleep at night and was waking up wondering how I was going to pay my bills.”
Then fate intervened in the form of Bridging the Gap, a new program through Family Promise of Moore County.
The program is designed to prevent homelessness by providing aid to families before the crisis occurs. That aid may come in the form of back rent payments to prevent eviction, or paying a utilities bill to keep a family in their home should unexpected and uncontrolled circumstances arrive.
Denise, who works at a local retailer, said some of her money issues occurred because she couldn’t say no when others asked for money.
She discovered the program by accident after she accompanied a friend to Family Promise about two months ago, she said. It was then that she struck up a conversation with Susan Bellew, executive director of Family Promise.
“She started talking to me about what was going on, and when I told her we had a program that could help her, she just started crying,” Bellew said.
“They were tears of joy,” Denise said. “I was so relieved to learn somebody could help.”
Bridging the Gap has two main components. One is rapid rehousing, which aims to help families get out of the shelter and into housing as soon as possible. The average stay in a shelter is 60 days.
The other is homelessness prevention, which offers cash assistance to Denise and others to keep them in their homes.
“It’s a way of trying to prevent the problem of homelessness before it happens, rather than dealing with it after,” Bellew said.
In both parts of the program, individuals must meet regularly with a case manager to discuss ways to prevent future financial problems.
Two of the more common issues discussed in case management are budgeting money, and reviewing W-4 forms to make sure families are getting the most money in their checks.
“Case management is mandatory and how we help each family is different,” Bellew said. “The main thing we look for is ways to help families increase their income or decrease their expenses, or both.”
Denise said the counseling she got paid immediate dividends.
“It helped me to get back ahead rather than behind,” she said.
Bridging the Gap was started in April thanks to a grant of $7,500 from St. Joseph of the Pines.
To be eligible for the program, families must be referred by a human services agency, Bellew said, and then must pass a screening process to get funds through the program.
“The idea of approaching this problem (homelessness) in this way is brilliant,” said Susie Buchanan, director of community relations for St. Joseph of the Pines. “These are people who may have ended up here (in a shelter) or worse.”
Buchanan said St. Joseph is so pleased with how the program is working that it will provide support again next year.
In addition to its financial support, St. Joseph provides another resource to the program through its Work to Work initiative, which helps qualified unemployed individuals in homeless shelters apply for jobs at St. Joseph.
“We can find these people jobs, and if we can get people back to work faster, we won’t have this homeless problem,” Buchanan said.
Bridging the Gap has helped a dozen families since it started in April, but to reach more, Bellew said it will take greater community support.
“We want to encourage other agencies and businesses to come aboard,” Bellew said.
Those interested in supporting the program can call Bellew at (910) 944-7149.
Family Promise of Moore County is an organization that feeds and houses homeless families in Moore County. The organization works with a network of churches that provide meals and overnight stays, as well as a shuttle to work and school, a day center and case workers to provide job placement and skills.
In 2009, Family Promise of Moore County provided 2,745 nights of shelter to 68 individuals, including 49 children.
Last year, Family Promise helped nearly 100 families and children, providing more than 700 nights in the shelter and 1,400 meals. The average stay at the shelter is 60 days, and the average age of the homeless is 9, according to the Family Promise website.
Bellew and Buchanan are positive that the Bridging the Gap program can help more people sooner, thus preventing their need to stay in a shelter.
“I realize we can’t help everyone, and solve all the problems of the world,” Bellew said. “But it is a wonderful feeling when you can help a family so that they don’t become homeless and have to come to the shelter.”
Added Buchanan, “But it does feel good to solve some of them.”
Denise, for one, is grateful for the help.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I probably would have been homeless without the program.”
For more about Family Promise, visit http://www.familypromiseofmoorecounty.org/.
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or email@example.com.
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