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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 23, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Bishops approve directives
on food, water withdrawal

Married priests still exception
to the rule for the Vatican
Catholic Charities housing program
creates stimulus for hope

Angela (not her real name) had done well for herself and her teenage son. She had a fine house in a nice neighborhood, a good job, a car, a retirement fund, an impressive credit score, and a bright future. In a relatively short time, that all came crashing down after she invested a lot of capital in a retail business partnership that turned into a spectacular failure.

“I made some bad decisions by trusting the wrong people,” she told The Catholic Voice. “I got behind on mortgage payments and car payments, and I couldn’t handle the stress. I couldn’t save my property, and so after 16 years I had to give it to the bank. Now everything is gone.”

Earlier this year, Michelle Frisse of Martinez joined other members of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Communities Organization in front of the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress and the Obama administration to pass legislation allowing mortgage loan modifications to be handled in court to help families at risk of home foreclosure.
The stress brought on severe clinical depression that sapped Angela’s energy and took her to a new low. She couldn’t provide for her son, so he went to live with his father. She spent several months in a shelter and in transitional housing. As she began to pull out of her tailspin, she found part-time work as a receptionist in August and began preparing herself to face the world again.

That’s where Catholic Charities stepped in, offering Angela a hand up by helping her secure a new start in a comfortable studio apartment.

“I didn’t have enough money to afford a place to live,” said Angela, who moved into her new home in early November. “But gradually I saved enough money to cover the deposit, and Catholic Charities helped me with the first month’s rent.”

As a single mother, Angela fits the most common profile of East Bay residents who have been seeking housing assistance from Catholic Charities of the East Bay (CCEB) during the present economic crisis.

“The majority of the phone calls that come in are from women with children, many who are losing their homes or are already in shelters,” said Solomon Belette, chief executive officer of CCEB. “There’s a level of desperation that you just pick up when talking to people on a very emotional level. People are very, very worried.”

The grim numbers tell the story. The poverty level in the city of Oakland stands at 18 percent, significantly above the state and national averages. In the first 10 months of 2009, CCEB has received 3,943 requests for housing and rental assistance, an increase of 71 percent over the first ten months of 2008.

Thanks to a three-year, $1.4 million federal stimulus grant through the city’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Fund, CCEB has expanded its services in an effort to meet the increasing need.

In addition to its downtown Family Service Center, the diocesan agency recently established a new location at Eastmont Towne Centre in East Oakland. Both sites take housing referrals from the city’s 2-1-1 central information line and offer case management and rental assistance to help struggling individuals and families stay in their homes.

Although the East Oakland office opened quietly and without fanfare on Nov. 1, its three-person staff has been inundated with assistance requests. The center can process about six case assessments per day.

At Eastmont, CCEB works primarily to prevent homelessness while Abode Services, a separate charitable partner that shares its office space, handles the Rapid Rehousing program for those who have already been evicted or have lost their homes, according to Michael Radding, CCEB’s director of programs.

“Most of what we’re doing is to keep people where they are at. That’s our focus,” Radding told The Voice. “It’s better if people stay where they are living so that they don’t have to end up on the streets at all.”

Applicants who earn less than 50 percent of the city’s median household income are eligible for stimulus funds to cover such expenses as rent, back rent, and utility payments. Once approved, a rent check can be sent directly to the landlord within about two weeks.

“We can’t help everybody, and that’s a real challenge,” Radding said. “We can only help a percentage of those who come to us.”

Clients who do not qualify for the Homelessness Prevention program may be eligible for assistance through other CCEB programs funded by entities such as FEMA, the Season of Sharing Program, Catholic Charities USA and a number of area foundations that have remained generous in their contributions despite the difficult financial times.

Families that need long-term assistance may be referred to the Family to Family program, in which teams from participating parishes provide continued support and mentoring.

CCEB also offers legal immigration services, counseling, and rental subsidies to emancipated foster youths and people with HIV/AIDS. Other clients may be referred to public programs or other local agencies that can provide the specific services they require.

As CCEB celebrates its 75th year of assisting families in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, its new Strategic Plan lays out eight important goals. The number-two goal on the list calls for Catholic Charities to secure and retain stable and affordable housing for its clients.

“Each year, we measure how successful we are in achieving this goal by looking at metrics and measurable outcomes,” Belette said. “The new Homelessness Prevention Program and others on our menu of services are all designed to respond to this strategic goal.”

Settling in to her new apartment, things seem to be looking up for Angela.

“My confidence is coming back, and I am moving on slowly,” she said. “I feel renewed and more energetic.”

She presently is updating her computer skills and said she may soon obtain a second part-time job. She hopes her son will return to live with her again in the near future.

“I think that I am getting my life together,” Angela said with a faint smile. “I feel I will make it. That’s what Catholic Charities has helped me to do.”

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