“She’s a miracle.”

When Kevin Gillette first met Katrina three years ago, the single mom was desperate to find a place to live for her and her son, Adan. She was determined to turn her life around after suffering years of abuse, trauma and addiction, but had no credit and was facing a mountain of debt.

“I couldn’t get a bank account. I couldn’t get a credit card. I had no safety net.” Katrina said.

A small team of agencies serving Clark County worked together to get Katrina and her son into an apartment. Soon after, she started working with Kevin, a financial counselor at Community Housing Resource Center (CHRC), to claim tax credits that could be used to settle some of her debt. In just one year Katrina’s credit score went from nonexistent to 667. United Way funding makes CHRC’s Earned Income Tax Credit work possible.

“EITC work is an integral part of the work we do here,” Kevin said. “When we can leverage these tax refunds we not only provide critical cash for people to pay their bills and get groceries, we also have an opportunity to help clean up their credit, settle collections and overcome barriers to better jobs and better housing.”

United Way sees investing in EITC outreach as an integral, but underutilized tool to stop generational poverty.

“Considering that nearly 40% of the region’s families spend more than a third of their monthly income on housing costs and that the annual EITC return is often the largest single check a family will see, this represents one of the most important strategies we can employ to help families find stability,” said Zeke Smith, chief impact officer at United Way.

"When we can leverage these tax refunds we not only provide critical cash for people to pay their bills and get groceries, we also have an opportunity to clean up their credit, settle collections and overcome barriers to better jobs and better housing."

Safety net funding has never been more important in the Portland region. The number of people experiencing homelessness in the metro area increased by almost 10 percent from 2015 to 2017, according to Portland city documents.

“You can't find a one bedroom apartment in this area that you’d be willing to spend a night in for less than $1,200 or $1,300 a month,” Kevin Gillette said. “What’s a single mom supposed to do? Two thirds of the people in this area can’t afford an unexpected car repair bill. They need to put it on a charge card, borrow money from family or not pay another bill.”

Katrina and Kevin
Katrina and her financial counselor, Kevin Gillette, at the Community Housing Resource Center in Clark County

Labor’s Community Service Agency (LCSA), another United Way Safety Net partner, helps community members facing unexpected hardships. 

“As the housing crisis continues to impact our region, even a steady job can’t save you from losing your home,” said Eryn Byram, executive director at LCSA.  

Eryn shared a story about a mother LCSA recently assisted whose family received a no-cause eviction notice because her property manager planned to remodel the units and double the rent. LCSA was able to provide a security deposit on a new apartment so the woman and her children did not suffer eviction and face homelessness.

“With United Way’s support, we’re able to jump in and assist with bills before a situation escalates to losing a home — before the water services are turned off,” Eryn said. “It’s our honor to help these families maintain stability during an emergency and we believe that United Way’s support of our region’s safety net provides a stronger, safer community for all.” 

United Way is working to stop generational poverty by playing a long-game focusing on kids and school success. That work is made more effective, though, when those kids have stability at home.  

“By working with families at risk of losing their housing, our partners not only keep them housed, but deliver an array of additional supports that help strengthen families and move them forward,” said Keith Thomajan, president and CEO at United Way.

This has proven true for Katrina and Adan. Three years after Katrina first met with Kevin at CHRC, she’s working full time, studying accounting in college and her son is thriving.

“I would never have been able to do it myself,” she said. “I wouldn’t have known where to start.”

Thanks to United Way donors and Safety Net partners, she didn’t have to. 

“By working with families at risk of losing their housing, our partners not only keep them housed, but deliver an array of additional supports that help strengthen families and move them forward.”