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Housing Stability Fund reaches out in hard times

April 17, 2009

In 2009, it’s the economy, stupid, to paraphrase an old political line. But more than that, it’s people, the people who, often for the first time, are coming to social service agencies for help paying basic bills. The Community Foundation responded to these needs in February by creating the Housing Stability Fund and beginning a pilot program with three area agencies to help keep people in their homes.

At Greater Birmingham Ministries, Hope House and Shelby Emergency Services, the people applying for assistance often have never asked for help of any kind before. Just navigating the system can be challenging, in addition to the limited dollars available.

A GBM staffer told the story of one man, dressed neatly in shirt, tie and jacket, who sat in the waiting area all morning. When she finally got a chance to speak with him, she learned that he was not waiting for an appointment with the executive director, but needed help with bills now that his wife was ill and no longer able to work.

As the staffer apologized for taking so long to talk with him, the man stopped her. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I learned a lot while I was waiting from the other people in the room about places where I can find help.”

In the current economy, direct-service providers like GBM, Hope House and Shelby Emergency Assistance are seeing cases like this both in urban and rural settings. They also see the hardships faced by people who were already in poverty before the recession began.

And so they negotiate with landlords, they structure payment plans, they use their years of experience with clients to stretch the grants for our Housing Stability Fund to make a difference. As this pilot project continues in 2009, we’ll report back on how it’s working and what our nonprofit partners tell us about the needs they face and the opportunities to help.

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