Intent on Helping Others, She Found Herself In Need
The Homeless Prevention Assistance Program provides emergency grants to help individuals and families overcome a financial crisis. Here's one family's story:
Angela works at a nonprofit that helps struggling families. She has long taken pride in her work ethic and insists on being a role model for her daughters, ages 12 and 3.
She never considered that one day she would be seated across a table from a case worker, embarrassed and ashamed, asking for help.
Angela can pinpoint the moment she began to struggle financially: when she could no longer take the physical and emotional abuse from her husband. She moved out with the girls and found a small house with a backyard on a safe street.*
She paid the rent diligently but she could barely cobble enough money each month for food, clothes, health care, transportation and other expenses. She began to fall behind.
“For a while, I was afraid” but never considered returning to an abusive relationship, she said. “I’ve always had a job and I was making payments but was always owing more and more. I was backed up and could never catch up.”
Desperate for help and on notice that her power was about to be turned off, she turned to Samaritan House in San Mateo, one of eight Core Service Agencies supported by the County of San Mateo’s Homeless Prevention Assistance Program.
After confirming her need, Samaritan House paid her utility bill and several other outstanding debts, about $900 in all. She was able to keep the lights and the heater on. “I just needed that little push,” she said. “Part of me was ashamed that I had to ask for help, but when you’re in need, you’re in need.”
While foreclosures and bankruptcies marked displacement during the Great Recession, local officials learned that during the past few years many families were losing their homes or being evicted because of persistent -- yet relatively small -- bills that were going unpaid.
To lend a hand in one of the most expensive housing and rental markets in the nation, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors launched the Homeless Prevention Assistance Program in 2014. The County provides a pool of local sales tax funds from Measure K that designated local nonprofit organizations, known collectively as Core Service Agencies, can draw upon to pay off small debts incurred by qualified applicants.
“We know the best way to prevent homelessness is first to help people stay in their homes,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom. “We can often accomplish this by helping those most at-risk of becoming homeless with relatively small grants that can help them overcome a short-term crisis.”
Helping individuals and families facing a financial crisis can prevent homelessness
The Board in 2015 approved $868,800 in Measure K funding for the program through June 30, 2017. Due to the program's success, the Board has renewed it through June 30, 2019 with an additional $977,200 in Measure K funds.
At a Glance: Homeless Prevention Assistance Program
|Time period||January 2014-December 2016|
|Assistance||1,997 individuals in 812 households|
|Average household grant||$1,470
Applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements to qualify for financial assistance. These include a sudden or significant loss of income, a notice of the eviction process, a recent traumatic event such as a health crisis or other critical family need, said C. La Trice Taylor, who helps run the prevention program for Samaritan House in San Mateo.
"With the high cost of living here in San Mateo County, we see so many families that are barely hanging on each month," she said. "One unexpected bill or a number of small bills that add up over time can crush a family financially. We have found that a little help can go a long way."
Grants are capped at $2,000 per household, either as a one-time payment or multiple smaller payments.
Today, Angela is co-parenting the girls with her husband. She has no intentions of getting back together with him but says the two are working together on behalf of their children.
Angela said she had to overcome a lifetime of pride to ask for help. And when help arrived, she could feel the relief from mounting stress. The experience has given her additional empathy toward her clients, many of whom "are worse off" than she ever was.
"I can definitely relate better to my clients," she said.
*Her real name and the city where she lives are confidential to protect her privacy.