We invite you to read a few of CHAF’s success stories and hear first-hand how CHAF is changing lives in our community.
As the homeless population in Massachusetts has increased, so have the reasons that people find themselves in this situation. “I’m not the person you expect when you think of homelessness,” said D’Andrea in an interview at HomeStart’s Cambridge office, where she had showed up carrying a heavy bag of textbooks.
Her plan had been to begin her studies a few years earlier, but after turning 18 she aged out of the foster care system that had provided her stability in her childhood. D’Andrea applied on her own for food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, but despite her resourcefulness, she couldn’t find an appropriate studying environment in the emergency shelter she had to rely on night after night.
While at St. Patrick’s shelter in Somerville she met a HomeStart advocate, but shortly after they began working together, D’Andrea became ill and needed emergency gallbladder surgery. “My phone never worked at the hospital,” she explained, making contact with the HomeStart Cambridge manager difficult. “We played phone tag, but he never gave up. He called me nearly every day.”
A month and a half later, D’Andrea received the good news that she qualified for her own apartment, a subsidized unit that she could afford in the long run. She still faced the final hurdle of start-up costs, but thanks to assistance from CHAF, she was able to bridge the gap. “The very first thing I did when I was housed was apply to college…I now have a place to study and do homework,” she said in a moving speech to a crowd of CHAF supporters at last October’s Open Doors for the Homeless.
Thanks to CHAF and HomeStart, D’Andrea has the foundation of stable housing upon which she can build her future. She is looking forward to finishing school and becoming a medical assistant administrator later this year.
Michael was successfully employed until the degenerative effects of Muscular Sclerosis (MS) and the death of his mother left him homeless about four years ago. He had been working as a Kitchen Supervisor at Emmanuel College and living with his mother when he was diagnosed with MS in December 2006. However, about a year later, his mother passed away and within four months as the MS worsened he found himself homeless and within six months became handicapped.
“I didn’t want to live with family or friends,” Michael said. “I had to leave work and a lot changed, but I’m stubborn in a good way. I don’t give up.”
He entered into the shelter system at that point. “The shelters were hard. I had to deal with people with different issues.”
He turned to HomeStart, one of CHAF’s agency partners, for help. A Housing Search Advocate was able to place him into the Cambridge YMCA. He then became a client of then Housing Stabilization Advocate Seth Michaelson and then to Eileen Wilson (both of whom are now program directors with HomeStart). Wilson was able to place him into his present, spacious, one-bedroom apartment in East Cambridge. He was also able to reclaim some furniture from storage that had belonged to his mother, and HomeStart was able to draw on funds provided by CHAF to help with startup costs.
For the full Michael story, see CHAF’s Summer 2012 newsletter here
Kendrick is Giving Back to the Community after 20 Years on the Streets
With assistance from the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund (CHAF), Kendrick is reunited with his son, Kenaalli. After living on the streets for over 20 years, Kendrick now has his own apartment along with his son Kendrick, Jr., 16, and Kenaalli with a chance to get full custody of his other two sons: Kumani, 15; and Kenei, 13.
Kendrick coaches youth football and said that coaching football was a good bonding experience with his children, “It gives me a feeling of togetherness and love. I do it for my son and the other kids on the team. It gives me a sense of giving back to the community.”
Through Mass Rehab, Ellison is now enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College where he will be studying in their culinary arts program. He also completed the Boston University sponsored study, “Life Skills: Transitioning from Homelessness and Isolation to Housing Stability and Community Integration,”
funded by The National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and is now a peer leader in the program.
Kendrick wants to spend his life “paying back the community.”
For full Kendrick story, see CHAF’s newsletter here
Success Story: Eugene
Hello, my name is Eugene and I wanted to share my story with you, so that you can know just how much CHAF changes people’s lives for the better. Here is my story: I was homeless for almost four years. I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. I was living in abandoned houses. Then I had a stroke and I spent two weeks in the hospital. The stroke left me slightly paralyzed on my right side and impacted my memory. I ended up at a shelter in Cambridge where I was referred to HomeStart. At the shelter I received treatment, physical speech and occupational therapy. During my stay at the shelter I started to transform – gaining a better perspective on my life and how to live. I began to have a better relationship with my only daughter and I was able to be a better father – more consistent and supportive.
After more than a year of seeking housing with HomeStart I received one of HomeStart’s housing vouchers and my housing advocate helped me find an apartment. When I moved to my apartment I needed help with some of the move-in costs. That’s where CHAF saved the day. Those funds broke down the final barrier from me being homeless to being in my own home.
Now that I am clean and housed, my relationship with my daughter is very open. What I was building with her while in the shelter has really come to life! I see her every other week and was able to recently celebrate her graduation from high school and see her enter her first year in college. My ability to be so present and so proud of her comes from the consistency I was able to gain from being housed. Without HomeStart and CHAF, my daughter would be lost out there in the world without a father.
Since entering housing, I have been steadily working on my education and improving my memory and focus skills. I am happy to say that I have been sober for 4 years. I am a graduate of Salvation Army’s Umoja program, which is a spiritual support recovery program for men transitioning from homelessness to independent living. This July I became a Senior Soldier at Salvation Army as well.
In this role, I am giving back- supporting those who are in need just as I once was. I am becoming a consistent, reliable and responsible community citizen, helping those who have less than me, those in my community, those right here in Cambridge.
HomeStart and CHAF gave me what I couldn’t give myself and that’s another chance at life, being a better father and an engaged, proud, community citizen.
Success Story: Jennifer
“A couple of years ago, I was going through a very tough time in my life. I had broken my arm and was put on medication to deal with the pain. I ended up getting addicted to this medication. Eventually, everything came to a head and I was evicted from my apartment. It was 2 years ago that I had to go into a shelter because I had lost my home. I realized enough was enough and I put myself into a program to help me with my addiction. I wanted to get my life back on track.
Then, through my shelter, I was introduced to HomeStart. I had entered a lottery with the housing authority to be put on a list to get a housing voucher. When my name got pulled, I was told to gather mountains of paperwork and prepare for an interview with the housing authority. Luckily, I had my HomeStart Advocate to help me through this difficult process. They determined that I was eligible for a voucher. I was so thrilled when I got this news! My next step was to go out and find an apartment. I really lucked out when I found my apartment. Then I realized I had to come up with a security deposit, first month’s rent and money to pay for a moving truck before I moved in. Funds from the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund paid for all of this for me. That was such a blessing!
I can’t believe that I went from having just a tiny corner of a room in a shelter to having a home of my own. My life is completely different now than it was 2 years ago. I decided to go back to school for Animal Care Technician at North Shore Community College. I just love animals and I’ve always wanted to work with animals.
It is because of CHAF and HomeStart that I have a place to call home. They have done so much for me and I’m glad that I’m able to give back by sharing my story with all of the wonderful CHAF supporters!”
Success Story: Barbara
My name is Barbara, and I am a 40-year-old woman who has found her way out of homelessness thanks to CHAF and the people who make it possible. I became homeless when I was 25 years old, and lost my children to DSS. In the last fifteen years, I have never had a real place to call home. I have lived with relatives, friends, in shelters, programs, and even motels. Having that kind of instability in your life, and sometimes not knowing where you will be from one day to the next is one of the most terrible feelings in the world, and is something that no one should have to experience. I have also struggled with sobriety in the past, and I am proud to say that I am now celebrating being clean and sober for almost a year. Along the way, I tried on many occasions to obtain housing, and I lived briefly in some rooming houses. I left one SRO situation to live in a market-rate apartment, because I wanted to have my own space, but due to the fact that it was unaffordable for me, I was forced to leave after two months.
I finally decided in June of 2006 that I needed help finding affordable housing, and I went to HomeStart and asked for help. I met with my HomeStart worker every week and applied for lots of different housing opportunities. My advocate and I worked very well together, and I always felt supported and encouraged by her throughout my housing search. Thanks to my involvement with HomeStart, and after plugging away at housing applications for months, I finally got a Section 8 voucher and found my own apartment. For those of you who don’t know what a Section 8 voucher is, it means that I can keep this subsidy forever, even if I move to a new place or a new area. My apartment is lovely, and has two bedrooms so that even my 18-year-old son can come visit me on the weekends. I have not had a place where my son could come visit me for fifteen years. Being in and out of shelters made it difficult for me to see my son and spend time with him in a safe and comfortable environment. Now we finally have a place where we can be together and talk, or cook, or just watch a movie. The fact that he can say that he is going to his mom’s house to visit means the world to me.
I would not have been able to move into my new home without the help of CHAF, because I would not otherwise have been able to pay for the security deposit. There were no other funds available to me, and CHAF was literally a life saver. I owe so much to CHAF, and I just wanted to express my gratitude by writing this letter. I wanted to give something back by letting everyone know that a fund like CHAF really does make a huge difference in people’s lives, and it has made a huge difference in my life. Thank you so much for making it possible for me to finally have a home.
Success Story: Norman
Norman knows all too well what it’s like to be on the verge of homelessness. But thanks to the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund, life has changed dramatically for this Cambridge resident.
In 2002, Norman shared his inspiring story at the annual CHAF benefit concert before audience members. “I am here to express my gratitude,” Norman told the crowd. “Changing my residence at this time in my life meant more to me than merely moving from one address to another. It has allowed me to break loose of a situation that I could not find a way to get free of.”
Below is Norman’s full speech to those gathered at the 2002 CHAF benefit concert:
“I am pleased to have the chance to speak to you this evening. It gives me the opportunity to express my gratitude to each of you for the help I was given from CHAF when I moved four or five months ago. I can only say that what you did at that time in my life was not only important but crucial.
A serious illness in my twenties left me with a disabling physical impairment. It has cost me a great deal of time and critically limited my professional prospects. Though I have made myself into a contributing member of the community as a music teacher my income is small enough that I still need it to be somewhat supplemented each month by Social Security.
Until about half a year ago when I was lucky enough to be ruled eligible for a housing voucher, the chief way my low income affected me was in terms of my living accommodations. To put it bluntly, I was not able to discover a way to live on what I was able to earn that felt to me suitable for a man my age. It was a problem that seemed to have no solution or at least that I could find no way to solve.
I had enough coming in to keep me alive, but it did not seem to allow me to live in a way that was not provisional, shabby and dispiriting. There was the possibility, of course, of sharing a place with strangers as I had done in my twenties, but what felt fine in my twenties felt radically wrong for a man in my forties.
I am not going to waste your time with a physical description of this place I lived in for fifteen years or so. I will only say that it seemed to confront every time I came home with overwhelming evidence of my personal defeat.
I never could find a way to regard it as my home. It was simply a place in which to keep my belongings, to sleep in and in which to eat my meals. I felt both a tremendous yearning to get out of this living situation and a terrible doubt that I would be able to find a practical way to accomplish this.
Being awarded the housing voucher was both a godsend and an enormous spur to action. When I at last found a place that seemed adequate more or less, and that, at any rate, allowed me to escape where I had been struck for so long, I found myself confronted with several new problems that had to be solved if I were actually to make the move. All of these were potential road blocks.
One was the problem that CHAF helped me with. Each month my income was completely eaten up by the bills I had to pay and there was never much if anything left over.
I could not find a way to gather any kind of war chest such as I would have to have should I be asked to provide last month’s rent or security deposit. And the prospect of large-scale borrowing filled me with a horror that I imagine is typical of a disabled person on a very limited budget.
Finding a way to come up with the $1,000 for the security deposit was what your fund helped me to do. I hope I have made clear to you how pivotal this help of yours seemed to me.
And I think you can see that changing my residence at this time in my life meant more to me than merely moving from one address to another. It has allowed me to break loose of a situation that I could not find a way to get free of. So I am here to express my gratitude, to thank you for the good work that you have done for me and I would guess for others in situations like mine.”
Success Story: Carol
I was fleeing a domestic violence situation. I was left homeless for four years and had lost my children and was struggling with an alcohol and drug addiction. I was spiritually, mentally, and physically drained and felt defeated.
I had a desire to change and reached out for help. I began with asking my Lord Jesus for help and that was the beginning of my journey to recovery. God started placing people on my path and one of them was CHAF.
I had a lot of challenges up ahead of me. I found it difficult staying at shelters and going into the streets early each morning. Because of CHAF, I was able to secure housing and to have a safe place to lay my head, work on my recovery and re-build the relationship that was severed with all three of my children.
Today I have custody of all three of my children. CHAF has been a key piece to the foundation I build my life on. I am able to give my time to the elderly, serving lunches and talking about their journeys and I’m also able to help out other organizations.
CHAF has been a blessing to me and my children. I now have a three bedroom home to provide my children with a healthy, safe place to learn and grow. I appreciate the simple things, such as sitting around with my children watching a movie, talking and laughing. We go for walks, my son has sleepovers, and I am able to be active in all areas of my children’s’ lives today.
Just recently I took my two sons to their first Red Sox game. To watch the joy on their faces was priceless. In September I saw my daughter off to college with a heart full of gratitude to have gotten to be there for her accomplishments and this milestone in her life.
Today I look forward to a future of being able to make a difference in the lives of others. I would like to go back to school to study psychology and human services and continue to share hope and inspiration with others. Today I am no longer that defeated woman. I give all glory to God and the people he placed along my path, CHAF being one.
Success Story: Laura
Sometimes one stroke of bad luck leads to another and homelessness becomes inevitable. And once you are in the street, it becomes very difficult to conserve the mental and physical strength necessary to solve the endless problems you face.
Homelessness is destructive. This is why prevention is so important and prevention is a big part of what CHAF’s partner agencies do: keeping people in their housing so they never have to deal with all the debilitating effects of homelessness.
Laura knows what it’s like when things go from bad to worse. Last year she lost her job due to budget cuts. Her unemployment compensation took several months to be approved. As a tenant in subsidized housing, she was entitled to have her rent adjusted but through a series of administrative mix-ups, this was delayed and Laura found herself owing $1,000 in back rent.
At risk of being evicted, she was then diagnosed with cancer. Thanks to CHAF funds, provided by the Cambridge Multi-Service Center for the Homeless, Laura didn’t end up on the streets. She was able to keep her apartment and to keep on fighting for her health and a new job.
Laura spoke to CHAF supporters as the Kickoff Reception in April 2005. “My name is Laura and I am one of those people that was at the edge of losing my apartment. Seven months ago, I lost my job, lost my car, I almost lost my apartment… and then I learned that there was an agency in Cambridge… I am so grateful because (CHAF) helped me… Through all these problems I ended up at the hospital and thank God I have my apartment today because of this program. Thank you all.”
Success Story: Phillip
“Without CHAF I’d be in the streets,” said Phillip at CHAF’s 2005 Kickoff Reception at the Charles Hotel. “If this program didn’t come along in my life, I don’t know where I’d be. The people who helped me out: Marie, she went through thick and thin for me and I appreciate that from the bottom of my heart.”
Phillip is the primary caretaker for his daughter and grandchild. He works full time and his expanding family needed rental assistance to move into public housing. He got it from CHAF.
Part of CHAF’s mission is to erase the stereotypes and stigma of being without a home. We need to understand the obstacles faced by those who are seeking affordable housing.
In each of the nearly 700 households assisted by CHAF in the past six years, as Mayor Sullivan said, “are real people with real faces.” Many of CHAF’s clients are working families and individuals. Perhaps they’re fallen on hard times. Or perhaps, they just need a boost to a better living situation.
Many are working by day, in a shelter by night, scrimping and saving and barely surviving. They finally find an apartment and suddenly have to come up with first and last month’s rent, security deposit, moving costs – it all adds up! Often they just need a boost: some matching funds to go with their savings. That’s where CHAF comes in – we help them over the hurdle to having a set of keys to their own home. In these days of dwindling funding for non-profits, your assistance is more crucial than ever to helping others like Phillip.
Rebecca’s Story: When Working Full Time Isn’t Enough
In today’s world, working full-time doesn’t open doors like it used to. Minimum wage has fallen so far behind the cost of living that a single person in Massachusetts needs to be earning more than three times that amount to be able to afford a single bedroom apartment. And even if affordable housing is available, saving for a security deposit is often an impossible goal.
Witness Rebecca, a young single mother, lifetime Cambridge resident, employed and yet virtually homeless in her own hometown. “I was born and raised in Cambridge, living with my parents and a seven year old son,” said Rebecca. “My parents were relocating out of state, forcing me into homelessness. I had been looking and trying to save money for an apartment in Cambridge since my son was born. But it seemed that every time I got ahead, I fell three steps back. The rental market is just so expensive. I felt like I was never going to be able to find an affordable apartment to raise my child in Cambridge. I knew that I would never be able to afford to come up with rent and a security deposit and I have been working full time since I was 17 years old.”
With the help of CHAF’s partner, the Cambridge Multi-Service Center for the Homeless, Rebecca was able to locate an affordable apartment. She was thrilled but scared she wouldn’t be able to take it. “I had enough money saved for the first month’s rent but not for the security deposit,” she said. Rebecca’s case manager at the Multi-Service Center, Naty Morrissey, immediately thought of CHAF. “Naty told me not to worry and assured me that she could get some help. Well sure enough, she got back tome with great news. Because of CHAF’s extremely generous service I was able to move into my own apartment,” said Rebecca. “Their wonderful program provided me with enough money to cover the security deposit that I was just never able to come up with on my own. I’m incredibly grateful that CHAF’s program is here to assist people like me to create a wonderful and happy home.” Rebecca now lives with her son in the same Cambridge neighborhood she grew up in.
Success Story: Zobeida
Zobeida is used to doing things right. She has an associates degree and had been working in bookkeeping for several years when she decided it made sense to return to school and go for her bachelors in accounting. With a four year degree in hand, she could get more interesting work, and better pay at the same time. She’d been saving by working an additional part-time job. So in September 2004, she enrolled at Bentley College and began to study.
Unfortunately, because of the course load, she could no longer work the two jobs, and her savings didn’t go as far as she’d hoped. Zobeida realized that she was going to have trouble paying her rent. Her family couldn’t help her out financially, so she spoke to her landlord who arranged for her to move to a more affordable unit in East Cambridge.
Then the real problems began. She was laid off in September 2005 and during the five months she was out of work, she couldn’t keep up with the bills.
Her unemployment benefits didn’t start coming until the middle of October. Again, Zobeida anticipated the problem and spoke to her landlord. “I was told by the manager that nothing could be done. My December rent went unpaid. I had to finish paying November and put money down on my other bills. In January 2006, I received the eviction letters.” Zobeida had never been evicted before and continued to try to talk with the landlord and explain that she was still unemployed but actively seeking work.
In the end, it was Zobeida’s landlord who referred her to Maria Melo, a case manager at the Multi-Service Center for the Homeless. Maria was able to provide CHAF funds to cover Zobeida’s back rent. She also negotiated to have her rent reduced.
“Without this assistance I’d have been homeless, living in a shelter, and most likely would have had to quit school. I am very thankful that didn’t happen.”
Zobeida is back on her feet with a job that she loves at the Massachusetts College of Arts which pays enough for her to continue working toward her bachelors at Bentley College.
It costs CHAF on average $670 to prevent a family or individual like Zobeida from falling into homelessness. Once homeless, it costs $37,000 to keep them in the shelter system for a year.