ROCHESTER — A 59-year-old woman sought help from Catholic Family Center recently after escaping from a domestic-violence situation.
Five years ago she had left her home and her possessions behind.
“She has been living with a friend for four years as she tried to rebuild her credit and become financially stable,” said Bobbi McGarrity, senior case manager with Catholic Family Center (CFC). “She did obtain some employment in the medical field.”
The woman sought housing assistance from CFC. She had a security deposit, but needed $410 for her first month’s rent in a little studio apartment. She received that money from funds raised by the Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal, which helps Catholic Charities offices and affiliated agencies assist people in short-term financial crises.
“Her whole life is turning around,” McGarrity said. “She is so excited to have a place of her own.”
Rising food prices and high unemployment has led dozens of local families to flock to CFC seeking food, clothing and housing. In October 2011, CFC served 192 households and 486 individuals with one-time food assistance, as compared to 97 households and 356 individuals in October 2010.
Meanwhile, government funding has been cut back to programs that aim to address the needs, McGarrity said. For example, for 2012 the federal Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people pay their home heating bills, has cut available benefits in half. The program also started later and is ending earlier than in the past.
“The benefit has been cut so dramatically that I cannot even gauge what this year is going to bring,” McGarrity said.
Meanwhile, many of CFC’s longtime donors have told the agency that they are feeling the pinch of tough economic times as well, and they have not been able to donate as much to the agency this year. The collision of all these factors shows in the bare spots in the agency’s clothing closet and food pantry, McGarrity said.
“We’ve been without peanut butter for about six weeks,” she said in late November.
Christmas Appeal funding gives the agency flexibility to meet needs as they arise, especially when there are not programs available to cover the crises people face, said Margaret Shavick, supervisor of clinical services at CFC.
“I’ve seen people sleeping on couches, and some sleeping four kids in a bed and using food stamps meant for a family of two, feeding a family of five people,” Shavick said.
One way that the agency aids its clients is by helping them address the roots of their problems. In 2011, CFC started a counseling program with three therapists funded through the United Way. The goal of this free counseling, McGarrity said, is to help clients set and achieve their own goals. Clients attempt to decrease stress and deal with budgeting, health, nutrition and motivation issues.
Housing is one of the main concerns that prompts people to contact CFC. The agency is one of the providers in Monroe County of temporary housing assistance through the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s Homeless Intervention Program and Supplemental Homeless Intervention Program (HIP/SHIP).
HIP/SHIP funds can be used for legal services and conflict resolution to prevent eviction, education on tenant rights and responsibilities, advocacy to ensure household members are receiving eligible benefits, and assistance in securing permanent housing, according to the 2010-11 HIP/SHIP report to the governor and state Legislature. Additional services available for housing maintenance may include case management, substance-abuse services, domestic-violence prevention, budgeting, education, child care, employment, parenting, and physical and mental health care.
According to the HIP/SHIP report, for the fiscal year 2010-11, CFC received about $10,000 to help keep five households in permanent housing for at least 180 days. Demand often far outstrips available funding, McGarrity noted.
“We screen about 20 calls a day for financial assistance with rental needs,” she said.
CFC also is a recipient of state Homeless Housing and Assistance Program funds, which include capital grants and loans to help the agency buy, build or rehabilitate housing for the homeless. On Dec. 21, 2011, the state announced that Providence Housing Development Corp. and Catholic Family Center would receive $1.99 million in state funding to build Son House Apartments, 21 one-bedroom apartments for the homeless.
Sometimes people are only a few paychecks away from homelessness, noted McGarrity, citing the case of a 57-year-old father with two children who sought help from CFC to prevent eviction. He had been employed for about 20 years and also worked part time as a substitute teacher, but emergency surgery and a series of hospitalizations destabilized his financial situation. He fell behind on rent.
“We helped him with $500 to avoid homelessness,” McGarrity said.
The man was able to go back to work, and CFC is continuing to follow his progress, she said.
Shavick noted that in another instance, $62 in Christmas Appeal funds were used to purchase a bus ticket for an elderly man to travel south to live with his sister. Had he not received money for the ticket, he most likely would have become homeless, she said.
“These funds give us a solution where there are not other solutions,” McGarrity observed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations of season-appropriate clothes, food and personal-hygiene items may be dropped off at Catholic Family Center, 30 Hart St., Rochester. The office may be accessed through entrance 5 at the back of the building. For details, call 585-232-2050. Volunteers also are needed. Call Claudia Gill at 585-546-7220, ext. 7044.