Jane* grew up in a single-parent home. Her mother worked hard to provide for them and always made sure Jane had what she needed. After graduating from high school, Jane took a full-time job. She continued living with her mother and began contributing a little of her earnings towards the monthly expenses. The rest of her check she spent before the next payday.
Then, Jane’s world changed forever.
Within six months of receiving a cancer diagnosis, Jane’s mother – her only family – was dead. Young Jane was suddenly on her own. Without her mother’s support, Jane soon became homeless.
She lived where she could, couch-surfing with friends and, when necessary, sleeping in her car. When her employer learned her situation, they referred Jane to Hillcrest Platte County.
Jane realized she had no control over her life. She was just surviving and accepted the help Hillcrest offered. After entering Hillcrest’s Young Adult Program, Jane was assigned a case manager, a budget counselor, life skills classes, and an apartment sponsor. They became her tribe.
She met weekly with her case manager to review her goals and progress towards achieving them. Before each meeting, she prepared her documents and wrote down any questions or needs she wanted to discuss.
Every Tuesday evening, Jane attended life skills classes to assist her journey to self-sufficiency. She enjoyed the lessons and discussions with others in the program. She also regained confidence in herself.
Building a Connection
When Jane moved into her apartment, she found a vase of fresh, brightly colored flowers and a small note card with her name on it. Inside the card was this message, “Hi Jane! I’m Mary**. I will be bringing your welcome meal and a few other items to help you feel at home. Please text or call me when you can.”
Jane’s case manager had told her that churches sponsored most of their apartments, and someone from her sponsoring church would be contacting her. She hadn’t had a home-cooked meal in weeks, and it sounded pretty good. She sent a text to the number Mary had left on the note.
Several hours later, there was a tap at her door, and she opened it to find a smiling face holding a cardboard box and carrying several grocery bags. During their text conversation, Mary had asked Jane if she could also bring over a few items to stock her pantry and refrigerator. Jane had been surprised when Mary asked about her favorite foods, not just bread, milk, and eggs. The grocery bags contained some of her favorite snacks and comfort foods. In the box were two square pans of enchiladas – one ready to eat and the other ready to freeze for a later meal.
Mary chatted with Jane as they put away the groceries. She shared a little about herself and let Jane know she was there for her. Mary would check in with her once a week to see how Jane was doing. Mary also told Jane that she and her small group at church knew she had been through a lot, and they would be praying for her comfort and success.
Jane lived at Hillcrest for six months and learned to take control of her life. She also learned how it felt to be loved unconditionally by a stranger who provided encouragement, support, and a sense of belonging. Of course, by the time Jane graduated from Hillcrest, Mary was no longer a stranger. They had built a relationship that continued beyond graduation.
You Can Help
Hillcrest Platte County provides a helping hand to many of the areas homeless. What sets Hillcrest apart from other housing programs in the area is You.
The encouragement and support received through apartment sponsorship make a big difference in a resident’s success. Residents living in an apartment with an active church sponsor have a better chance of success than residents living in an unsponsored apartment.
As Christians, our calling is to build connections with those around us by showing the love of Jesus. Sometimes we show that love with a phone call to a resident in a transitional housing apartment. A call where you listen to their struggles and provide encouragement. Sometimes it’s an email that shares positive scriptures and asks if there is anything you can do for them. Or, it’s a gift card to a local restaurant so your resident can experience their first meal out in a very long time.
If you are called to show God’s love through human connection and would like more information regarding apartment sponsorship, contact Rebecca Sayre at email@example.com or (816) 877-4397.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited in.” Matthew 25:35
*Jane is not a real person. Her story is a composite of several Hillcrest residents.
**Mary is not a real person. She is a composite of Hillcrest apartment sponsors.
Peggy Staver is a former budget counselor for HPC. She blogs at her personal site and writes content for non-profits and small business websites. You can find her at https://www.peggystaver.
For most of us, we live a lifestyle that is fully self-supporting in which we have money to cover the basics of life with enough left over to do the things that make life enjoyable. However, many across Kansas City and our nation struggle each week to pay their rent, utility bills, and to put food on the table. Our nation is the wealthiest in all of human history but we need solutions to these very real obstacles that affect millions.
Finding affordable housing is a lot harder than it sounds. For people who have poor credit, an eviction (or more) on their record, or work at low-wage jobs, it is nigh onto impossible. Many times, they are forced to pay rent that is higher than the fair market value because they represent a higher risk to the landlord. This causes even more stress on wallets that are already stretched to the limit. All it takes is an illness, a vehicle breakdown, or the loss of an income to put a family in crisis.
Some would cry foul and choose to ignore this problem under the false belief that government programs are available to help these family. It can take years for a family to be awarded Section 8 Housing assistance. When it does happen, the recipients still have no security in housing because a landlord can drop out of the program at any time resulting in mass evictions. It happens quite often and I have seen it in my office several times.
One solution that seems to work is providing tax breaks to landlords to encourage them to continue accepting housing vouchers. Likewise, we also need more income sensitive housing for those who do not qualify for Section 8 Housing. Again, tax incentives should be provided to encourage landlords to base rent on the income constraints of would be renters. This creates a win-win situation for the renter and the landlord.
Another obstacle to a fully self-supporting lifestyle is the lack of affordable (and dependable) transportation. Many families live at or below the poverty level and cannot afford to purchase a vehicle that costs more than $300 to $500. Tragically, the vehicle they can afford will be unreliable at best and at worst will stop running altogether in short order. I see it all-to-often. What are these people to do? They cannot afford to take a cab to work every day. Even as “affordable” as Uber and Lift are for single trips, it is still too expensive to sustain for long.
Many turn a blind eye to this struggle and declare that this is why we have the Kansas City Area Transit Authority where for just $3.00 anyone can ride the bus all day. On the surface, that sounds great but the devil is always in the details. The bus lines are limited. Nowhere is this truer than in Platte County. There is one bus route and that only goes as far North as the airport and is limited, more-or-less, to Prairie View Road!
What are people to do who live miles East, West, or North of the bus line because their “affordable” housing is nowhere near this KCATA approved route? None of these can get to higher wage jobs because they have no means of taking advantage of our severely limited mass transit system. Sadly, Platte County has been begging the Transit Authority for years to expand the bus line only to be told the KCATA cannot afford to expand the service it provides to Platte County.
One thing that can help these families is the donation of affordable and dependable vehicles. I know individuals that go to great pains to maintain their cars and trucks, not so they will retain value for a trade later but so they remain reliable year after year. The donation of such vehicles would be a blessing to low-income families. However, the donation of cars and trucks that are reliable is a very real problem. The unscrupulous donor of soon-to-breakdown vehicles gets a tax break while also passing their problem vehicle onto someone else. This is an issue of personal integrity and must not be tolerated as it causes great harm to low-income families.
To donate a reliable vehicle, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another obstacle to a fully self-supporting lifestyle for single mothers and many families with limited income is childcare. I recently had a family in my office where both parents are working full-time but who are paying $1500 a month in childcare for their two children. In many cases, it is more cost effective for mothers, whether single or married, to receive government assistance than to work and pay for childcare.
While it is true that childcare costs have increased as childcare workers have begun to earn more, the real problem has been stagnant wages for low-income families. In response to this, more and more churches have started to offer childcare that costs much less but, when one’s income is so low, that often makes little difference. On top of that, there are often long waiting lists to access this “affordable” childcare. We clearly need more affordable childcare options including private, neighborhood options.
One Pragmatic Solution
The greatest thing that we can do is to help low-income families earn higher wages. Many in low-income families earn so little due to a lack of education and training. While it is still legal for 16-year-olds to drop out of school, doing so negatively affects lifelong wages. Very few who did not complete high school earn more than minimum wage and many cannot find full-time work. Yes, we need to do more to promote affordable housing, affordable transportation, and affordable childcare, but raising wages through education and training should be at the top of the list as well because artificially setting wages leads not to a higher standard of living, but to higher unemployment.
We can make a difference in wages by changing the law so children are no longer allowed to quit school and by helping those who do quit to earn their high school diploma or equivalent. Additionally, we need more affordable academic and vocational training programs. This can be done by expanding access to Pell Grants and scholarships based on both need and performance. The truth is that education and training do the most to help individuals move from low-paying jobs to well-paying careers. As voters, we need to make our elected and appointed officials recognize that we can no longer afford to ignore this reality.
Blog written by HPC’s Blessings Program Director, David Johnson