In the early morning hours of July 26, seven buses from every district in New Jersey departed for Washington D.C. to deliver a strong message to Congressional Leaders on Capitol Hill: “No Housing Cuts.”
Led by Monarch Housing and Catholic Charities, the goal of the day was to assemble advocates to urge legislators to oppose proposed spending cuts to programs that give New Jersey residents access to affordable homes.
Housing experts estimate that the funds proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill, released in early July, are at least $1.5 billion less than what is needed to ensure that every household in New Jersey currently receiving housing assistance remains in their homes – including housing for extremely low-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans, and other vulnerable populations.
Explained Kevin Hickey, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, “Catholic Charities works to serve those in need and to empower them to build lives of dignity and economic security. We know how critical safe, affordable housing is to the well-being of families, and so we are distressed as we contemplate the impact of cuts in housing assistance.”
He continued, “Faith-based groups and the non-profit sector do not have the resources to replace those functions which are the legitimate responsibility of government and the private sector. We believe in the common good, and governmental housing programs for the disabled, working people, and the poor are vital for the promotion of the common good.”
Capitol Hill bustled with activity on the sunny day as Catholic Charities and 38 partner organizations filed into the Dirksen Senate Building. Ten of the twelve New Jersey Congressional representatives attended to give remarks, as well as both Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.
In addition to 450 advocates from organizations from across the state in attendance, including every Catholic Charities in the state, speakers also included individuals directly impacted by homelessness or lack of sustainable housing.
Among the speakers was a client of Catholic Charities from Paulsboro, Ashley Harvey, who took off work to attend the Congressional Reception, accompanied by her two children and her mother.
Harvey had always supported herself and lived on her own since age 19. Although steadily employed at a day care center, economic tough times forced her employer to cut Harvey’s wages from 11 dollars an hour to nine dollars an hour. This had a huge impact on her ability to continue living independently. She had little choice but to move, with her two children, into her mother’s small, one-bedroom apartment. Living in tight quarters with her mother and her children, Harvey knew she had to start planning for a better housing arrangement. “I had to get out – for me and for the sake of my children,” Harvey said.
After saving up enough money to resume living on her own again, she just needed help with a security deposit and help with establishing a disciplined monthly budget. Harvey sought the help of Catholic Charities, where she began working with the staff in the Westville office. It was then that she entered a program called HPRP2 (The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program) – an initiative granted to Catholic Charities through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), funded by New Jersey Department of Community Affairs – one of the programs that will be directly impacted by sequestration and further budget cuts.
The goal of HPRP2 is to provide a stepping stone for clients to become self-sufficient by establishing a rental payment plan. The program involves a case manager working intensively with a client by developing a budget plan, providing credit counseling, and guiding them through the process of finding and maintaining a stable home. Harvey now lives self-sufficiently, working full time, and providing for her two children.
While standing in front of hundreds in the audience, she shared her story about her transition to sustainable housing, as well as the positive impact it has had on her children. “There are days when it’s hard being a single mom. But I am now able to live on my own in a stable home, and for that, I am so thankful,” she said.
John Seibel, Harvey’s case manager, reflected on Ashley’s message. “The Reception was a great opportunity to showcase our Camden Diocese’s success with Homeless Prevention and Relocation services. Ashley’s personal story represents the challenges of many single mothers, but is proof these barriers can be broken, and success can be maintained.”