Beth’s daughter Macy was born with undiagnosed Hirschsprung Disease—a defect in which the large intestine doesn’t work properly. When Macy was 15 years old, the issue had progressed to the point she needed surgery to have part of her intestines removed, and she was in the hospital for an extended period of time. Even though Beth had a good job as a nursing home aid, between medical bills and time spent away from her job to be with her daughter in the hospital, she ended up jobless and then homeless. When Macy was finally able to leave the hospital, Beth and Macy found friends to stay with, where they shared a twin bed. But there wasn’t room for Macy’s brother, so—on top of all her other frustrations—Beth was heartbroken at having to split up her family and find a different place for her son to stay.
Beth was torn. She knew she needed to find a job and a home for her family, but Macy still needed significant help to function in daily life. Beth couldn’t rely on her friends forever, and she needed to get her family back together. But she didn’t know where to start.
When Beth was referred to Catholic Social Services’ (CSS) Home Choice program, she was grateful—not just for the financial assistance, but also for the emotional support and advocacy her case manager provided her. Through this federally-funded program, CSS’ case managers help families and individuals prepare and transition back into their homes following nursing home or prolonged hospital stays. Hospital and nursing home stays can financially devastate even the most financially-stable families, especially when their family member faces a period of intensive care, like Macy did. Some families, unlike Macy’s, can’t count on their loved one ever making a complete recovery, and need to get ready for a complete lifestyle change. CSS’ Home Choice case managers ensure families have smooth transitions to their new normal by helping them access affordable, permanent housing, furnishings, care items, transportation, and other necessities. Their work is made incredibly difficult by the fact there is a 54,000-unit shortage of affordable housing in Columbus, and that many in the vulnerable population they work with have to use over fifty percent of their incomes on housing.
A big part of a Home Choice case manager’s job is helping her clients make their funds stretch as far as possible. Over the course of Macy’s surgery and recovery period, Beth had built up a $4,300 utility bill that prevented her from being able to receive future utility assistance. In addition to helping Beth stretch her stipend, Beth’s case manager connected her to a one-time Gift of Kindness from The Columbus Foundation, which caught her up on past bills.
Beth, with the support of her case manager, worked hard to get a job, to purchase a car (she had lost hers during Macy’s illness), and to become sustainable. She was able to move into an affordable apartment that was big enough for her to reunite with her son. Macy is back in school, where she is a standout student, and is on her way back to health. She’s even planning to join the track team!
Beth is a hard-working mom who would do anything for her children, and without CSS and Home Choice, she might have fallen through the cracks in the system and slid from a period of situational homelessness into a state of chronic homelessness. Beth is not alone in this.
Though the root causes of homelessness are incredibly complex, it is commonly caused by a combination of low income jobs and lack of affordable housing. Even though unemployment is currently low in Columbus, many of the jobs that contribute to this statistic pay minimum wage, and experts estimate that an individual making minimum wage needs to work an average of 72 hours each week to afford basic housing and necessities. That’s a tall order, and if one has dependents, mental health challenges, or unexpected family crises, the prospect of affording sustainable housing on a minimum-wage income is daunting or even impossible. One major illness is all it takes for families teetering on the edge of poverty to fall into a long-term cycle of poverty and homelessness.
Thankfully, Home Choice is here to assist members of this vulnerable population to transition from difficult times in hospitals and nursing homes back into self-sufficiency in the community. Without this service, many of our Home Choice clients would be stuck in the system indefinitely, without the resources and emotional support to get out. Some would choose to leave the hospital or nursing home, even without adequate resources for the transition, and would begin experiencing homelessness.
While the Home Choice program is largely federally funded, our clients still need your help. We work with clients ages 3 months old to 90 plus years old and they must be on Medicaid and in the hospital or nursing home for 90 days. The stipend they receive is a set amount regardless of specific circumstances, and it doesn’t always cover all the costs individuals or their families require. You can help our Home Choice case managers stretch their clients’ stipends further by donating gift cards for household goods and furniture to stores such as Walmart, Kroger, Big Lots, ALDI, and Dollar Tree.