Photos: Megan Zabel Holmes for United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

Home Is Where You Keep Your Belongings

Monday, May. 7, 2018

Two years ago, Stephanie, a single parent, found herself in an unimaginable situation. Despite having a full time job Stephanie couldn’t afford rent in Washington County, and she and her six year old daughter, Teja, became homeless.

For six months they had to pack up their belongings and move every day – at times spending the night on a friend’s couch or staying at a hotel. It got to the point where Teja would start crying when they pulled into the parking lot of a hotel. Sometimes Stephanie had to choose between getting to work on time and making sure Teja attended kindergarten that day. As a result Teja had a difficult time focusing and participating in class. “I think for a kid to have to pack up and move every day – that’s hard," said Stephanie. "It just amazes me that you could work so hard and still not make it.”

At the urging of a friend, Stephanie reached out to Community Action, a United Way nonprofit partner. Community Action operates one of the three family shelters that exist for all of Washington County. Stephanie recalls the huge sense of relief she felt when they moved into the family shelter. “When I explained to Teja that she could go down to the car, get all of her stuff and bring it all up – that it was just going to stay here until we found an apartment – I saw this little light bulb go off.” 

Though Stephanie had a stable work history, good credit and no prior evictions she couldn’t find affordable housing in Washington County. According to Community Action, nearly half of all Washington County renters are paying more than a third of their income toward housing costs and more than 1 in 5 are paying half of their income towards housing. 

Nearly half of all Washington County renters are paying more than a third of their income toward housing costs.

That’s why United Way helps families meet their basic needs. Through our Safety Net programs we partner with community nonprofits, like Community Action, to provide short-term rental and utilities assistance for our region’s most vulnerable families. Last year, 2000 families received immediate, short-term rent and utilities assistance from United Way funded partners and 70% remain in their house 12 months after receiving assistance.

Eventually Stephanie and Teja were able to move into two-bedroom apartment where the rent is based on Stephanie’s income. With a best friend across the street, Teja is settling into her new home and school. It was during this time Teja’s teachers and pediatrician discovered she has dyslexia. 

Today, not only does Stephanie have a place to call home with her family but she is able to give her daughter what she needs to learn, grow and be healthy. 

“I honestly have no idea what we would have done if we hadn’t found this program," said Stephanie. “Everybody should be able to at least have a place to come home to.” 

“Everybody should be able to at least have a place to come home to.” 

Between now and June 15, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon will match your gift dollar for dollar up to $50,000. By making a gift today you can double your impact to get more families like Stephanie’s the support they need to plan for their future.

Click here to make a gift today!

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