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Loving our neighbors by helping provide adequate and safe shelter


This is the fifth and final post in a Lenten series explaining the five-fold efforts of FOCUS North America to provide Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, Shelter (F.O.C.U.S.) to our neediest neighbors. To read the first post click here! To read the second post click here! To read the third post click here! To read the fourth post click here! To read more about WHAT we do and WHY we do it click here!


child2Recent estimates by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty stated that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year.  Some are transitionally homeless, living with friends, family or in hotel rooms. Others are depending on homeless shelters and transitional housing. Some simply live on the streets.


Part of FOCUS North America’s initiative for providing holistic life recovery is by helping those who have no home find a safe place to live and by helping low-income individuals and families who do have a home keep it safe and in good repair. Helping provide adequate and safe SHELTER is one more way FOCUS NA shows love for our neighbor.

The National Coalition for the Homeless found that up to 25% of homeless individuals in some states are employed. Over the last 20 years the lack of affordable housing has become the main reason for homelessness, the Coalition reported.


And the working poor who do have a roof over their heads often live in depressed areas with high crime rates, low home values, and limited resources. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the recession has caused an almost five-fold increase in the rate of overcrowding in homes and apartments, suggesting that families and individuals are living with family and friends in an effort to avoid living on the streets


When Tanny read in the newspaper about the good work being done by FOCUS Pittsburgh, she thought she might find help there as well. The young mother of two had been evicted from her home after losing her job. Forced to split her family up between three friends’ homes, Tanny was desperate, Paul Abernathy, FOCUS Pittsburgh Director said.


“We assessed her situation,” Abernathy said. “Through a series of circumstances, she was able to move into a three-bedroom house.”


Abernathy said through generous donations and hard-working volunteers, FOCUS Pittsburgh was able to furnish Tanny’s house, connect her with an energy assistance program so she could get her electricity turned on, and even assist her in applying for a nurses’ aid program through the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.


But, Abernathy said, probably the most important thing was that Tanny was able to be reunited with her children.


FOCUS Pittsburgh’s efforts to set Tanny up in her new house, drew the attention of a local developer working in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. “The run-down housing projects in the neighborhood are being demolished and will eventually be replaced by new Section 8 housing,” Abernathy said. “Many of the families won’t be able to move their belongings into the new housing because of the filth and bugs in the old projects. They will be starting over.”


The Hill District Community Development Corporation suggested the FOCUS Pittsburgh take on the mission of helping these families start over in their new homes with fresh, clean furnishings.


“We see this as a very specific need for this neighborhood,” Abernathy said. “We want to be able to mobilize the materials and labor necessary to help these people enter their new homes with the things they will need.”


GTWC-4Another way FOCUS NA is working to provide shelter for those in need is by helping those who have a place to live keep it safe and in good repair. Recent Census Bureau Reports indicated that compared to the general population of homeowners, low-income homeowners generally lived in smaller, older houses and had houses with a lower value. Sixteen percent of low-income homeowners live in a house that is in moderate to serious need of repair.


Simple repair problems left undone due to lack of resources or physical ability, quickly become bigger problems exposing homeowners to health and safety risks.


When Barbara received a letter from the city to repair her crumbled front steps, she wasn’t sure how she would get it done. Elderly, disabled and a widow, Barbara had no resources for such a task.


“We found Barbara through a local church database that gathered requests for home repairs,” Eric Shanburn, Director of FOCUS Gateway City in St. Louis, MO, said. “We fixed her steps, patched her foundation, secured her railing and did some painting as well.”


Shanburn said the goal was to help the elderly, and especially widows, with repairing and making their homes safer. Before he knew it, Shanburn and a host of FOCUS GC volunteers had completed about 30 repair projects for those in need just on Barbara’s block. “We started with one woman and ended up helping a whole neighborhood,” Shanburn said.


Whether through rent assistance, rapid transition to housing counseling and support, providing furniture and utility assistance or by helping with necessary repairs for the elderly and disabled, FOCUS NA is embracing the gospel mandate to love our neighbor.


Click here to read about FOCUS Appalachia’s home repair projects for the working poor in Yancy County, North Carolina!

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