Recently I have written about basic necessities and how, in Indiana, the township trustee can help people who are not able to meet their families’ basic needs of food, clothing or shelter. In one column, I discussed our Food Pantry and in another our Clothing Emporium. Today I’d like to talk about how our office helps those in need of shelter.
You may think of shelter as just a roof over your head to keep the rain off, but it is actually a roof and walls plus the means to keep the place livable. Utilities like heat, water, sewer service and lights are necessary. If you’ve ever been through a power outage or a loss of heat in the winter you know that those living conditions are not sustainable. In fact, our city code requires that a home have water and sewer service. So having shelter means not just having a building but also having the services to keep it running.
There’s been a lot in the news lately about the increasing numbers of homeless people in our country, especially veterans and families with children. Homelessness is a serious problem that is not only painful for its victims; the problem puts a strain on our public resources (tax dollars) as government agencies and not-for-profits struggle to deal with it.
In our office we deal with the problem of homelessness in several ways. In the best case scenario, we can prevent a family from becoming homeless by helping them out with a needed rent or utility payment. This can happen after the household goes through a process where we look at their income and expenditures and verify that indeed they cannot pay this bill on their own. Maybe the breadwinner of the family has lost his or her job, or maybe a family member has become sick and then overburdened with medical debt. Keeping that family in their home and off the streets is the best solution for them and for our community.
Another way we help prevent homelessness is through our Representative Payee Department. With this service we work with the Social Security Administration to help people who receive Social Security benefits—be it disability or retirement—who are unable to manage their own finances. In the Payee Department we make sure that the client’s rent and utilities are paid before anything else comes out of the client’s funds.
Sometimes a client will come to us already homeless. We have on our staff a Community Resource Specialist, Dennis Powell, who has been in his job for many years and who has formed connections with landlords, social service agencies, housing agencies and others. He can often locate just the right living situation for someone that can be either permanent or a good short-term solution.
Several members of our staff attend meetings of other social service agencies who are working on homelessness in our community. At those meetings we share our stories and listen to others, and we hear about the latest thinking on the problems of those without a home. In this way we are better able to help our clients not only financially, but with counseling and by bringing them together with other resources to find or keep them in a home of their own.