Making it on a budget and a dream

Ashley Harvey, 31, sat in Catholic Charities’ Westville office on March 20 as her case manager, John Seibel, prepared to close her case file for good.

“We’re just finishing up some final paperwork,” said Seibel, as he sorted through files. “This is Ashley’s 12th and last month with us. She’s ready to take the next step toward independence, and,” he said, looking up, “she has been remarkable.”

Harvey had always supported herself and lived on her own since age 19. Although she was steadily employed at a day care center, economic tough times forced her employer to cut Harvey’s wage from $11 an hour to $9 an hour. This had a big impact on her ability to continue living independently. She had little choice but to move, with her two children, into her mother’s one-bedroom apartment.

“I could get by on $11 an hour. But not on nine,” she explained.

“Not many people can,” Seibel remarked.

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. She came across 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) — a program granted to Catholic Charities through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Seibel explained that 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.

Two key requirements for participation in this program are that clients must be employed, and must be responsible for paying 30 percent of their monthly income for their housing costs.

Catholic Charities provided Harvey with a security deposit for a new apartment where she has more space with her children.

“Ashley had the 30 percent paid on time, every time, for 12 months. She has always communicated any sort of problem to me before it even happens. She has been beyond responsible, has never missed a call or appointment date,” he explained. “She pays her bills early. I just spoke with her landlord today. He told me that Ashley is exceptional, and that he doesn’t want her to ever leave.”

“I love my new apartment. It’s coming together piece by piece. I try to be a good tenant. If the landlord isn’t around and there’s something that needs to be done, I’ll do it. I try to pick up any trash that may be laying around the grounds and stuff like that.

“And,” she said as a wide smile broke out, “my kids love it.”

When Harvey moved with her children, ages 3 and 9, from her mother’s home in West Deptford to her new apartment in Paulsboro, the transition at first was rough for her 9-year-old daughter. Harvey explained that her daughter didn’t want to start over at a new school and make new friends.

“But this year, she loves it. The teachers speak very highly of her during my conferences with them and they can tell that I demand a lot from them — and I do. As their mother, I told them that I will not accept Fs, Ds or Cs. Only As and Bs. They both have chores. I’m still learning how to be a parent, and I have a lot to learn. But they are my world. Sometimes they’ll tell me, ‘Mom, I love you, and thank you for what you do,’ and it just brings tears to my eyes,” she said.

Harvey explained that it’s also important to her that she teaches her children, even at a young age, the importance of saving and budgeting money.

“When they want toys or other things, I tell them how important it is that I manage my money well. All of my bills are due at the beginning of the month, and I always make sure I get those paid first. Then, I can treat my kids and do activities with them, and I save the money that’s left over. And John, and this program, have been so unbelievably helpful with setting me straight on a good budget plan.”

Continued Harvey, “And the most exciting news … I start a new job. Tomorrow. I’ll be training for a managerial position at a restaurant.

“I have so much more pride in myself than I did, say, three years ago. There were times then where I’d just feel so lost and had no idea what to do with my children when it came to schooling. I had no idea how to pay my rent or other bills when I was in the hospital for a week and had to miss work,” she said.

Seibel noted, “And she insisted on going back to work the day she got released from the hospital.”

In response, Harvey said, “Well, nothing comes free. You have to work for it. Now I’m in a place where I want to be. It’s really a dream come true. And I would not be here if it weren’t for Catholic Charities,” she said. “I would refer anyone to come here. John has been there for me through every single bump in the road.”

“The next step is buying a car,” she said, “but one step at a time.”

Said Seibel to Harvey, “You know what you have to do going forward. And you are definitely on your way.”