Toni is a 58 year old lady who entered the shelter a month and a half ago. I had a chance to talk at length with Toni when she moved in. I always try to find out what brings people to Sacred Heart House. Each person has a different story, some similar to others, some not. To me, each story is unique, as is the path they need to take to begin their journey out of homelessness.
Toni has never been homeless, lived in her apartment for 13 years and has run her dog walking/sitting business for 20 years. As the rent on her apartment continued to increase, she continued trying to increase her business. Finally, she could not continue to keep pace with the increases and had to leave her apartment. After 13 years, homelessness was eminent. Fortunately, she was able to keep the lease on her car current. Since it was summer, she put her things in storage and moved into her car, maxing out every form of credit just to survive. With the weather changing, she decided to find a shelter. This thought terrified her. She moved into Sacred Heart House on September 24th.
That night Toni shared her story with me, not knowing anything about me or who I was. She just needed to talk to someone to assure her that she was going to be okay. We discussed her dog business, her experience of being homeless and many other things. The whole time Toni had a hard time looking me in the eye, she felt ashamed and lower than any other time in her life.
After sharing her life story with me, Toni hesitated, composed herself, lifted her head up slowly, looked me in the eye, holding back her tears said, “Can you tell me something?” “Will I ever get back to where I was?”
I cannot tell you what my answer was. All I could do was assure her that I would do whatever I could to find something for her. I never know where people will end up after their journey with us. At that time I told her about my wall. I let her know I would ask for help. I assured her that she would end up in a place where she would be okay. I asked Mom to help me keep my promise to her.
As time went on, Toni and I worked to get her financials and budget in order. She looked for housing, checked out job leads and continued with her dog walking. All this time I kept telling her something would work out, we just don’t know what it is yet. As one of our interns was checking with properties for any availability, she came across one that said they had one that just came available. We asked Toni to apply asap. Toni filled out the application and was told that the rent for this unit would be $970 plus utilities. They needed financials for six months for her business to see if she would be eligible.
Toni and I got the financials together. Her budget showed that she could only afford around $500 per month, but they weren’t asking for expenses, only income. She was hesitant to spend the $35 application fee to continue the process for an apartment she could not afford, but we decided it would give us a chance to see what feedback she would get for her next opportunity.
A couple of days later, Toni told me she was accepted. Neither one of us thought that would be a possibility. They were impressed by the financials and the business plan she put together for them. Now we had to try to figure out how we could make this opportunity a real possibility for her. She did not want to end up in a place she could not afford and could lead her to homelessness again.
I again turned to Mom’s big smile on my wall and asked for help.
I put together the information I had for Toni and her business, and asked a donor if he could help with assistance for 6 months. He agreed. Relieved, I let Toni know that we could help for 6 months. She could not believe that someone would help her with something like that. We now had to try to come up with a plan for the 6 months after the rental assistance, so she could afford it. It would be tight, but we found a way to make it work if nothing unexpected happened.
Toni was still concerned about the affordability of the apartment, but I assured her we would figure something out.
Monday, Toni met with the property manager to get all the details for moving into the unit. The manager gave her the paperwork which included the move-in date, deposit and monthly rent amount. To Toni’s amazement, they had calculated the rent wrong. The rent was not $970, it was actually $450 per month. The leasing agent was new and miscalculated the rent. She now could afford the rent for more than the six months.
“You kept telling me that this would work, I never believed you. Now I know what you meant.” Toni expressed to me after everything was complete. I looked at Mom, Dad, Matt and the rest of my wall everyday hoping something would work for Toni. I could only hope and pray that it would. We had to take the steps, not always knowing why, but knowing they were necessary.
I was able to introduce Toni to “My Wall” last night and tell her that this is why I could tell her that something would work for her when she asked me, “Will I ever get back to where I was.” I could assure her that we would find something for her.
Garrett Singer, Assistant Director, Sacred Heart House of Denver