'With me every step of the way'

Jonesboro resident, Tonya Martin, recalled sitting on the edge of her bed recently, on the brink of despair, realizing that the resources she depends on to keep herself and her three daughters from becoming homeless were running thin.

As Martin was about to break down, her 7-year-old daughter, Dennisja, came into the room holding a student of the month certificate in her hand.

"That made me realize that I could weather through the storm," said Martin.

Martin said she hit a rough patch last fall, while living in a rental house with her brother and a male roommate.

Martin, who was employed at Piedmont Fayette Hospital through a temporary agency, said things began to fall apart when her brother landed a job at an apartment complex and moved out of the home in October to take advantage of a rent discount at the complex.

Her remaining roommate, she said, was unemployed and soon left the residence as well. Martin said she began to ask herself, "What am I going to do, and who am I going to turn to?"

Martin said she was the only one whose name was on the lease for the home, and was left solely responsible for the rent of $1,050 per month.

"I told the landlord I was moving out because I couldn't afford it anymore ... I am just trying to do the right thing," she said.

Martin said her faith, and her persistent search for an open door, led her to the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program at The Salvation Army Jonesboro Citadel Corps.

Martin said she contacted The Salvation Army, at 130 Spring St., in Jonesboro, and was interviewed over the phone on Oct. 29. She said that after providing the agency with some documents, she was accepted into the program on Nov. 2.

"For the most part, they've been with me every step of the way," said Martin.

The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program assists families and individuals who are, or are in danger of becoming, homeless, said Raechelle Gaffney, a case manager for the program at The Salvation Army Jonesboro Citadel Corps.

Martin said Gaffney helped her create a budget that would allow her to be self-sufficient. It was determined she could afford a house for rent between $500 and $750 per month.

Martin said that through the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, The Salvation Army paid off bills associated with the old residence. She said members of her church opened their doors and provided her with shelter until The Salvation Army was able to find her family another home. The program also paid the first and last month's rent for Martin, to help her get started in her new home.

According to Martin, she moved into the home on Nov. 24, at a more manageable rent of $735 per month. She said she is currently working directly for Piedmont Fayette Hospital, as a referral coordinator, and is no longer with the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.

"If The Salvation Army wouldn't have stepped in with this program, I would've been in a hospital having a nervous breakdown, and where would the kids be?" Martin said.

Staying off the streets

Lance Crawford, director of the Clayton County Housing and Community Development Program, said the Clayton County Community Services Authority, at 1000 Main St., Forest Park, is responsible for administering the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program for individuals and families residing north of Ga. Highway 138, and The Salvation Army is responsible for serving those living south of the highway.

According to Jamminese Miller, community support director for the Community Services Authority, the authority has assisted 18 mostly homeless clients through the program. "I think it was more or less that most of those families were in a crisis, so we gave them priority," she said. "We are increasing the ones who need the prevention piece."

Officials with The Salvation Army said 34 households have been assisted through their agency.

"This is short-term assistance, not long-term," said Gaffney. "The goal is for clients to become independent once assistance stops."

Philip Van den Akker, coordinator of the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program for the Clayton County Housing and Community Development Program, said approximately 200 households are expected to be served.

Prospective clients for the homeless-prevention part of the program must meet one of four criteria for eligibility, which include: experiencing a sudden loss of income; being evicted from a private dwelling within the previous two weeks; being discharged within the previous two weeks from an institution one has been in for 180 days; or having a dwelling condemned, explained Van den Akker.

Prospective clients who are already homeless must meet other criteria, he said.

According to Crawford, The Salvation Army and the Community Services Authority each received $393,205 slices of a larger U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant presented to the county in August to administer the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.

"Throughout every month we get money flowing to help these families," said Capt. José Marques, of The Salvation Army Jonesboro Citadel Corps.

‘It was a miracle'

Royal Crouch, a Riverdale resident, was also nearly homeless before getting assistance from the program.

Crouch said he lived in an apartment and worked for a maintenance company cleaning office buildings, but was laid off by his employer in September.

"I was unemployed for three months and my unemployment benefits ran out," said Crouch.

He said he got an eviction notice from his landlord, and his car was repossessed.

"I was looking for the positives ... After a while you become depressed," Crouch said. "It is like you want to give up, but you can't give up, you've got to be trying every day."

According to Crouch, he didn't have family or friends to turn to, so he sought help at his church, where Gaffney was also a member.

"That is all it was. It was a blessing. It was a miracle," Crouch said.

Crouch said he was qualified as a client in late November and began receiving rental and utility assistance.

Crouch said he had to inform the manager of his apartment complex that he was involved in the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program through The Salvation Army.

"It seemed to be in a matter of weeks that vouchers were sent out to different creditors and companies," said Crouch. "It has helped with taking a lot of things off my mind."

Crouch said The Salvation Army came to his aid beyond the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, by providing him with a box of food every Friday, and hiring him, temporarily, as a bell ringer.

He said he is currently a maintenance employee at a hotel, though it doesn't pay much, and is still receiving assistance from the program.

"I am not sure I'll be able to sustain myself with this one job, but I am continuously looking," he said.

The Community Services Authority can be reached at (404) 363-0575.

The Salvation Army can be reached at (770) 724-1680.