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Voices of Family Promise

  • T.J. Putman

Ugh, inflation.

At first, it was supply chain constraints and now there might be other issues at play. Either way, the cost of goods and services are skyrocketing and that is especially bad news for our low-income neighbors in the mid-valley. If you’re a family that is living paycheck-to-paycheck or a family with less, continued inflation causes prices to soar even higher. Low-income families are looking for a lifeline to afford their basic needs.

Even though prices are similar for everyone regardless of income, low-income people spend a larger percentage of their money on everyday costs. For example, a family of four bringing in around $5,500 a month might spend $600 on groceries every month. Their groceries are around 11% of their monthly costs. A family of four bringing in $2,000 a month also spending $600 allocates 30% of their monthly income to groceries. This leaves low-income families with less money to spend on the rest of their essentials. No expense can be considered a small expense if you are unable to afford it.

There are large macroeconomic factors impacting our economy. Individually, we don’t have much control over our country’s fiscal policy, industrial production, or employment numbers. Even so, there are ways to help families through these rough economic times! You can donate to our Family Fund, purchase items on our needs list, and volunteer with us! These are small ways you can help be part of the solution that ends homelessness for a family.

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  • T.J. Putman

One apartment, 28 applications. If you’ve had a conversation with me in the last year, you’ve probably heard me mention that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on low-income children and their families. Each day we see this when working with families in one of our housing programs. Many families seeking rental housing in our community have encountered great difficulties in finding homes.

We thought the silver bullet to obtain housing would be our voucher program, formerly called Fresh Start, where families facing homelessness receive a form that guarantees payment of rent for a specific period of time. Despite this, many of these families are still unable to find adequate housing. We are seeing a great deal of negative effects that this is having on families.

One family that has been impacted by this difficult situation is a mother named Melissa, and her five-year-old son, Kaleb. Melissa worked in the restaurant industry, but like many others working in this industry, lost work during the COVID-19 shutdowns. It had taken some time for her unemployment payments to start kicking in, and she ended up losing her home. She was left with no other choice but to couch surf at the homes of close friends and family members, paying them whatever she could afford to go toward rent for allowing her and Kaleb to stay in their homes.

Realizing that she needed a more long-term solution, as her financial situation was not improving; she and Kaleb moved into our shelter program. Within one week of partnering with us, Melissa was able to find a new job. Within two weeks, she received a voucher, which serves as a commitment to pay the security deposit for a home, and at least six months of rent.

However, when searching for a home for her family, she came to realize that there were very few openings that she qualified for. When she was finally able to find an opening, it required an application fee of $55. These types of difficulties persisted, prolonging the temporary homelessness for her family.

Melissa and Kaleb’s story is just one example of the many families who have been impacted in similar ways. As a result, we are now utilizing some industry-leading best practices to help families like Melissa’s get a place of their own to call home. This includes working with families to write letters to prospective landlords, offering incentive$ to landlords who will work with our program, building personal relationships that encourage engagement with Family Promise, and highlighting the long-term case management we provide to support families in our stabilization program.

Finding housing is hard, but we’re hopeful that these strategies will help families have more opportunities to ensure that every child in our community has a safe place to call home.


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  • T.J. Putman

The COVID-19 pandemic brought into sharp relief the instability of work, childcare, and housing for low-income families. We are all excited for the next steps in a post-pandemic world; however, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of the many destabilized, vulnerable families that remain at risk of losing housing or who are experiencing homelessness right now.

Each day when we take calls, we are reminded of the fact that 50% of homeless families in Oregon are unsheltered. The costs for families—both parents and children contend with deep trauma and the lack of a safe place to eat, sleep, or even store belongings and prized possessions—are incalculable.

Oregon legislators have scrambled to expand financial and housing assistance programs in response to the continued effects of the pandemic. Just last month Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 282 into law. SB 282 extends the grace period for repaying rental arrearages (unpaid rental debts) accumulated during the pandemic. This bill is an effort to stave off the wave of evictions that were forecasted as the moratorium expires at the end of this month. (SB 282 does not stop landlords from evicting tenants for missing rent payments going forward, nor does it forgive back rent.) More recently, on June 22nd the the State of Oregon passed SB 278 which gives tenants behind on rent an additional 60 days if they can show proof they applied for rental assistance.

Families at risk for eviction—either because they cannot afford monthly rent moving forward, or because they will not be able to keep up with their rent in addition to the unpaid rental debts accrued during the pandemic—can turn to The Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program (OERAP). OERAP has been allocated $204 million to assist families and individuals with late, current, and even future rent and utility payments to help prevent evictions and homelessness.

The application itself—at 27 pages long, involving extensive supplementary documentation, and requiring landlord participation—is a major obstacle for those who have multiple missed rent payments. Some renters may not be able to procure documentation that fulfills all the requirements of the OERAP application. Others may have an uncooperative landlord. Landlord participation in OERAP might not be attractive for those relying on rental properties for income; some would rather find new tenants with more traditional revenue than participate in a program that is potentially onerous and less profitable.

Families that currently lack shelter must endure unpredictable and protracted waits as they face uncertain futures. The wait to be assessed through Oregon’s Coordinated Entry System can take anywhere from a day to a week. After families take the assessment, the wait for openings in different community housing can take years. Salem’s Housing Authority estimates that there is an 18-25 month wait for housing with three bedrooms, and for units with four or more bedrooms the wait is 4-5 years. For Section 8 housing, there is a wait to simply be added to the waitlist, which is currently closed. Finally, many unsheltered families lack a reliable contact address; without which they can miss out on mailed notices for the potential housing opportunities they have been awaiting.

The outlook for families experiencing homelessness is bleak; however, Family Promise is doing our best to expand efforts to help those who need it. Recently, we added staff to assist with the Coordinated Entry System and have tripled the number of beds available for families in our shelter program. Additionally, we are expecting to double the number of families we can take out of homelessness and move immediately into rental housing.

I’m not sure what the future holds, or the effect that OERAP will have in our community, but I am hopeful that SB 282 will help those in need. Family Promise is committed to helping families in our community, and we are excited to be able to expand our capacity to do so.

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