Getting out of Poverty

This guest post is written by Penny Saver from The Saved Quarter. Penny is a frugal mom, making the most of meager means, saving her quarters to save a quarter of her income. This is a blog swap chain letter organized through the Yakezie network. There are 4 stops. Check out my post at the next stop!

Foreclosure. Eroding work opportunities, less secure jobs, fewer benefits. Rising prices and stagnant wages. Lack of affordable housing and health care. Domestic violence. Mental illness. Addiction.

The causes of homelessness are complex.  It’s easy to think “it couldn’t happen to my family”, but many hard-working people are facing homelessness tonight because of circumstances beyond their control. 77% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, just one or two paychecks away from losing their homes. In fact, there are many homeless people who are working full time at one or more low-wage jobs and still aren’t able to afford stable housing.

The blogger at Boxcar Kids eloquently shares her story of homelessness after foreclosure and job loss. Even educated people who have done everything “right,” who paid their mortgages, earned a good income and saved an emergency fund can become homeless. It could happen to my family, and possibly yours too.

What would you do?

If I was facing homelessness

If I was facing homelessness with my family, I would first make every effort to stay in our home, reaching out for any assistance, programs and charities that could help. Hopefully, we’d be able to get back on our feet with such temporary assistance.

In my area, the Department of Housing Authority, Catholic charities, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, and local organizations offer rental assistance programs and self-sufficiency support services to try to keep people in their homes. There are also state and federal programs that offer financial assistance to help to prevent homelessness, including the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.  

If I was unable to pay my mortgage, I would first read these steps to avoid foreclosure and attempt to follow its steps to modify the loan, adjust the principle, or get a forbearance agreement to stay in the home. I might consider bankruptcy if that was appropriate in the situation.  

I would also apply for a grant through Modest Needs, a charity that offers grants to low-income individuals to help them stave off poverty. I might also seek a loan through a peer-to-peer lending group such as Lending Club. I would also seek other financial assistance, allowing me to redirect our remaining income toward our housing.  

I would go through my list of ways to make extra money and try to find extra money that would help me to stay in my home, or if staying would not be possible, give me a cushion to get on my feet somewhere else.

If homelessness was imminent

Even my best effort to stay in my home might not be enough.  If I knew that I would be losing my home in advance, I’d do my best to find an affordable apartment before losing my current home. It is much harder to get an apartment when you have an eviction or foreclosure on your record. If I couldn’t swing that – and many families can’t pay the first, last, and deposit required to get into a new place, or already have credit trouble from the hard times that lead to this situation – I’d do a little prep work to keep us off the street.

I would pack up our sentimental items and ask a friend to store them in their garage until we found another place. I’d pack our personal belongings, including important papers, the basics for everyday life (including my electric pressure cooker – easy, quick, one-pot meals can be made in the one container with just an electrical outlet), and camping gear. Everything else, I’d sell in a garage/estate type sale.

A private mailbox (not a P.O. box) to be a permanent address and a prepaid phone plan would be next on my list. It is next to impossible to get a job or apartment without an address or phone.  

The YMCA offers scholarships for low-income people, and I would apply for a membership with scholarship. That would give us a place to go and shower, and we’d be able to participate in exercise and social activities to help us feel normal and keep up our self esteem.

Next, I’d talk to my kids’ school to let them know about the situation. Sometimes schools know of support services. They can help kids to have a sense of stability through a difficult time. A day at the public library would also be in order to search for higher paying jobs, low income housing options, and community groups that offer help.

If I became homeless

If I exhausted the resources to keep me in my home and lost my housing, I would again reach out, seeking out shelters, transitional housing, and assistance in finding low-income. Many of these groups are connected with other assistance to help people get back on their feet, including soup kitchens, job training and placement, clothing, or mental health services.

It’s difficult to find shelters that accept men, women, and children together. Additionally, many require that you show up early in the day to get a bed, and if you had a job it would be difficult to have a place in a shelter and maintain that job. Unless there was no other option, we’d try to avoid shelters for this reason.

Another option would be an extended stay hotel. One in our area, a budget hotel with kitchenette and continental breakfast, can be found for $300 a week. It’s not ideal, but would keep us warm and dry, with a bathroom and shower, and breakfast every day.

If the weather was good, we might spend some time camping nearby to save money, coming into town each day to take the kids to school, go to work, visit the YMCA, or visit the soup kitchen for a hot meal.

At the same time, it’s likely that I’d need to repair my credit to be able to get a decent apartment, and my husband or I (or both) would need to advance our skills to get higher paying jobs. It would make sense for us to visit the local credit union to talk to an advisor about getting our finances back on track.

We might also go to the community college to find a vocational program. There are many grants, scholarships, and a great savings-match program called Individual Development Accounts that help low-income students return to school and get jobs. Those grants and student loans could also help cover our living situation during that time, although that would not be ideal.

Becoming self-sufficient again as quickly as possible and remaining together as a family would be my primary concern, keeping my kids’ lives as stable as possible.

*****

I hope that my family will never be homeless. It’s never the dream of a mother to worry about where her children will sleep that night or how she will be able to feed them. For too many families, this is not hypothetical, but a real concern without an easy answer.

Having researched for this post, I’m going to donate to my local homeless shelter. It’s a fine line that keeps families like mine from needing their services. 

Written by Chris

Chris Thomas, owner of the online freelance writing and web-copy company, FreelancePF. Chris's interest in personal finance stems from leaving grad school with six figures in student loan debt.

9 Responses to Getting out of Poverty

  1. I like the way you gave suggestions for beating each step on the way. When the financial crisis hit, many people found themselves in the same situation. I went back to school for a second degree to hide from my student loan debt and I had to move back home with my parents. But if I had children I know things would have been much harder.

  2. Joe Edward says:

    Penny,
    I hope homelessness is not in your cards as well but if it is print out your post and I am sure you would be back on your feet in no time.

    Joe

  3. That’s great to learn that there are resources to help people stay in their current homes! That probably is cheaper and less trouble for all parties in the long run to keep them in their homes than to have to find places for them to stay in shelters, etc.

  4. Very good post, Chris. Unfortunately too many people are just one paycheck away from homelessness. And that includes plenty of middle class families too.

  5. Rhonda says:

    My family is currently homeless.We’ve been living in a hotel for 7 months.It’s not as easy as it sounds to tap into the resources to prevent someone from being evicted.All the agencies you named, I called.Everyone of them was out of funding and some never returned phone calls.

  6. Rhonda says:

    The agencies listed as resources are always out of funds or never return phone calls.

  7. sanelle says:

    i hate this website it needs to be deleted

  8. Charlotte says:

    Having experienced some of what you write about here I would say I agree except for one thing – the extended stay hotel. $300 a week is $1200 a month, which is a *lot* of money for someone with not much income; you could get an apartment for less than that in a lot of places, maybe even with bad credit (I did). But if it’s that or a shelter, then it’s definitely preferable. Shelters are not for everyone – especially not families.

    The hardest part I think for the “new homeless” is access to services. People who have been in “the system” for a while, maybe for most of their lives, know how to use it; most of the rest of us don’t, and yet we may be the ones who need it most. There needs to be some way to even just learn about what’s available. I wish the local governments would help with this; too many people may be missing out on help they could really use. (And I wish I could offer suggestions but I’m clueless too.)

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