Mom and Daughter Team Pay It Forward

No one is happy to start school again; especially if you are a student being sent to school with little more than the clothes on your back. Lakia Diggs knows how it feels to be a student of parents struggling to make ends meet. She wanted to give back to those that may not be able to afford the long list of school supplies. Lakia and her daughter, Sa’Nyia Sherman, a smart and vibrant middle school student of Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School, decided to do something for those students. Sa’Nyia went online to look at the different lists of supplies required for each grade. Lakia raised funds by placing an event on her Facebook page. Shortly, the donations and supplies flooded her home.

When Lakia called around for places to receive the donation she only had one condition; to make sure that her backpacks got into the hands of students who need them. On Tuesday, August 19th Lakia and Sa’Nyia, stopped by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center to drop off 30 backpacks. She got to see the results of their labor. An excited five year old chose a pink glittered backpack and began to rummage through it.

“Pencils! Pens! Crayons!” she exclaimed. “A notebook. My mom has a notebook like this.” She said with a smile. “And…I don’t know what this is.” She said as she held up a protractor and gave Sa’Nyia a hug. “Thank you Sa’Nyia.” She said as she sat back down to see the rest of her school supplies.

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Baltimore City Youth Works Program

Written by Kenyatta

My name is Kenyatta and I am a Baltimore City High School student. Through the Baltimore City YouthWorks program I have been working at St. Ambrose Aid Housing Center this summer. My first project has been working and assisting the staff of Fundraising Department.   I feel achievement when I complete a project I am given and learn more about St. Ambrose and the different elements of it. I never knew there was more work to housing besides helping people live in reasonably priced homes. I always wondered, “How does the organization for housing find the money to change the look of run down or old homes?”

During my first week in the Fundraising Department, I learned that it takes structure, organization, and appreciation to make the things happen, provide the tools we apply to succeed and thank the people who have donated. I feel more appreciative because I am a part of changing other people’s lives for the better. I do plan to one day intern here or even volunteer for a year because I enjoy the structure and opportunity to make a difference.

I have helped the staff by giving part of my time and effort to display proof of our work represented in newspaper articles. I feel others would appreciate and believe that St. Ambrose is doing more than just giving someone a place to live, they’re giving them a home. The stories and emotions I hear from clients that don’t know what other things go on beyond finding the right home is incredible. To hear that I was a part of someone’s life who didn’t know it but helped them to smile and have a better tomorrow, it made me proud and happy to do something special.

I’ve also worked in the Rental Department and have learned how big St. Ambrose is. They have various properties that I’m proud to share that I learned about while sorting files and learning about each location. I’ve learned about ways of getting my own place by looking through different programs and what areas or people to contact. I have also learned about the different types of clients St. Ambrose can help or even direct for referral service.

I’ve enjoyed this experience with a lot of hard hours and focusing on my goal to make my projects excellent. I think everyone can gain a little more knowledge from helping others no matter what the organization is. I believe people can grow, like I have, from this experience and can incorporate more into their daily life. Helping people and change is what makes life better and more joyous. I do hope more people can look at my experience here as a sign of something worth doing and something great.

Sharing Housing with International Guests, a Profitable Cultural Exchange

by Emma Jornlin

As the U.S.’ baby boomers age, most report wanting to remain in their homes, where they can be near their community. In 2009, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of adults 65 and older living in Baltimore, found that nine out of ten respondents own their own apartment or home and the majority are very satisfied with their living arrangements.However, many Americans also have dreams of traveling to other countries, something that can be difficult when you are weighed down by a mortgage. A plane ticket to France? Not very feasible when you are stuck with a $1200 mortgage.Homesharing, the idea of renting out a room in your home to a non-related individual, allows homeowners to gain a disposable source of income while participating in a cultural exchange.Maxine Hudley, one of our HomeProviders living in the Belair-Edison neighborhood, has had a positive experience sharing her home with people from other cultures. This past year, she hosted a woman from Ethiopia who spoke little English and couldn’t afford an apartment with her job at 7-11. Over the 16 months sharing her home with Tarik, Maxine earned $6000 in rental income. Tarik, in turn, saved an estimated $11,600 on rent by living with Maxine. The following is an excerpt of an interview Emma Jornlin, a LVC working in the Homesharing program this year, conducted with Maxine. St Ambrose: Why did you decide to share your home?

Maxine: I needed the additional funds. And the great thing about me is I have a big heart.

St. Ambrose: Shared housing, the idea of sharing housing with non-family members, is very popular in other countries. For example, if you study abroad in university anywhere from Germany to Ecuador, you will be invited to stay with a host family. Why do you think it’s less popular in the U.S.?

Maxine: Well, I didn’t know about it until a few years ago. I heard about it on the radio. Then I read this article about a woman sharing her home with a gentlemen and it really impressed me.

St. Ambrose: You’ve shared your home with a number of people from other cultures. How do you communicate when you don’t speak the same language?

Maxine: She (Tarik) had someone who could interpret for her. She would call them up. Also, even though we don’t speak the same language, there’s a million other ways to work things out. Like when she wasn’t locking the door, I couldn’t make myself understood verbally, so I’d take her to the door and show her how to lock it. And she would do the same thing with me. The mattress was lumpy and she took me to the bed to show me. So I went out and bought a new mattress—for both of my Homeseekers.

St. Ambrose: Would you recommend Homesharing to others?

Maxine: Yes. 100%.

 

… and now for our Spanish readersEn Español:Mientras los ‘baby boomers’ de los E.E.U.U. maduran, la mayoría reportan que ellos quieren quedarse en sus casa, donde ellos puedan estar cerca de sus comunidades. En 2009, el Pew Research Center, conducto una investigación de adultos de 65 de edad viviendo en Baltimore, encontrando que nuevo de los diez respondientes tienen su propio casa o apartamento y la mayoría están muy satisfechas con sus vivencias.Pero muchos estadounidenses también tienen un sueño de viajar a otros países, algo que puede ser difícil cuando tiene una hipoteca grande. ¿Un vuelo a Francia? No es muy viable cuando Ud. tiene una hipoteca de $1200.Homesharing, el idea de rentar un cuarto en su casa a una persona quien no es familia, permite que el dueño de la casa obtener un fuente de dinero disponible mientras participando en un intercambio cultural.Maxine Hudley, uno de nuestros dueños de casa viviendo en el barrio Belair, ha tenido una buena experiencia compartiendo su casa con una persona de otra cultura. Este ano pasado, a ella alojo una mujer de Ethiopia quien no hablaba mucho inglés y no podía afordar un apartamento con su trabajo en 7-11. En los 16 meses compartiendo su casa con Tarik, Maxine ganó $6000. Tarik guardo $11,600 en renta.St. Ambrose: ¿Por qué decidió Ud. compartir su casa?

Maxine: Yo necesitaba los fondos adicionales. Y lo bueno de mi es que tengo un gran corazón.

St. Ambrose: El idea de compartir una casa con otra persona quien no es familia es muy popular en otros países. Por ejemplo, si Ud. estudia en otro país por su universidad en Alemania hasta Ecuador, le van a invitar a Ud. quedarse con una familia. ¿Por qué piensa Ud. que este concepto no es tan popular en los EEUU?

Maxine: Pues, yo no conocía el concepto antes de unos años atrás. Yo oí un advertismo en el radio. Después, leí un artículo en el periódico de una mujer compartiendo su casa con un hombre y me impresiono mucho.

St. Ambrose: Ud. Ha compartido su casa con gente de otras culturas. ¿Cómo comunica ustedes cuando no hablan el mismo idioma?

Maxine: Ella (Tarik) tenía alguien para interpretar por ella. Les llamaba por el teléfono celular. También, aun cuando nosotros no hablamos el mismo idioma, hay un millón de otras maneras comunicar. Por ejemplo, cuando ella no estaba cerrando la puerta con candado, yo no podía explicarlo verbalmente, entonces yo le llevaría a la puerta y le mostraba como hacerlo. Y a ella hizo lo mismo conmigo. El cochón estaba lleno de grumos y a ella me llevo a la cama para mostrármelo. Y por eso, yo salí a comprar un nuevo cochón—para los dos Home Seekers.

St. Ambrose: ¿Ud. recomendaría Homesharing a otra gente?

Maxine: Sí. 100%.

 

 

For our Spanish readers, connect with Southeast CDC for help purchasing a home

What you’d need to make in every county in America to afford a decent one-bedroom

Originally posted in The Washington Post
By Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham

Last month we wrote about a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition on how much a worker would have to earn to afford what the Department of Housing and Urban Development considers “fair market rent” in local communities across the country. The government sets these housing rates, which include rent plus utilities, based on the local market for decent-quality apartments of different sizes — neither dumps nor luxury flats. These are also the rates that HUD uses to establish local housing subsidies.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition took those fair market rents and calculated how much a worker would have to earn per hour to cover such modest housing, if we assume a 40-hour work week and a 52-week year. They call this rate a “housing wage,” and it is, unsurprisingly, much higher than the minimum wage in much of the country.

The coalition focused on one person’s hourly income that is needed to afford a two-bedroom rental, a scenario that most closely applies to single parents supporting children alone. But they also compiled data on one-bedroom “housing wages” — a metric that applies more broadly — and the organization gave us the data at the county level.

We’ve mapped this more detailed data in the interactive below. This is what you’d need to earn per hour, working a 40-hour week, to cover the kind of housing that the federal government considers modest in your county:

county rental wages

Click through for interactive version »

Mapped in finer detail than by state, several geographic patterns are clearer. No single county in America has a one-bedroom housing wage below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 (several counties in Arkansas come in at $7.98).

Coastal and urban counties are among the most expensive. The entire Boston-New York-Washington corridor includes little respite from high housing wages. Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties in California rank as the least affordable in the country (scroll over each county in the interactive version for rankings; click to zoom). In each of those counties, a one-bedroom hourly housing wage is $29.83, or the equivalent of 3.7 full-time jobs at the actual minimum wage (or an annual salary of about $62,000). Move inland in California, and housing grows less expensive.

A dark swathe of North Dakota that appears to cover the geography of the oil and gas boom stands out as well.

As a commentary on the national minimum-wage debate, this map is limited. While it suggests that a minimum-wage worker can’t afford housing in Seattle (where the one-bedroom housing wage is $17.56 an hour), in reality that person probably finds housing by renting a room in someone else’s home, by living in the cheapest part of town, or by working considerably more than 40 hours a week. (Remember George W. Bush’s praise for the “uniquely American” story of the single mother of three who worked three jobs in Omaha?).

But this map does succinctly portray dramatic variation across the country in housing costs, and it suggests that proposals to modestly raise the minimum wage won’t fully solve this problem. While median incomes vary broadly by county, just as housing costs do, the incomes for people who work at the bottom end of any community’s wage spectrum do not.

Top ten most expensive counties

State County 1-br. housing wage
California Marin $29.83
California San Francisco $29.83
California San Mateo $29.83
Hawaii Honolulu $26.58
Massachusetts Nantucket $25.83
California Orange $25.23
New York Nassau $25.17
New York Suffolk $25.17
California Santa Clara $24.87
California Alameda $24.13

Thirty counties in Arkansas are all tied for the honor of least expensive housing wage, at $7.98 an hour: Ashley County, Boone County, Bradley County, Calhoun County, Clay County, Columbia County, Desha County, Drew County, Franklin County, Fulton County, Howard County, Izard County, Jackson County, Lafayette County, Lawrence County, Logan County, Marion County, Mississippi County, Monroe County, Montgomery County, Nevada County, Newton County, Phillips County, Randolph County, Scott County, Searcy County, Sharp County, Stone County, Woodruff County and Yell County.

St. Ambrose Takes legal services into the community

Originally Posted in The Daily Record

Joe Surkiewicz
The legal program at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center isn’t waiting for clients to find its midtown Baltimore office. Instead, the nonprofit is going into the community to solve civil legal problems before they escalate – and with a permanent, brick-and-mortar presence.

Earlier this month, St. Ambrose opened a walk0in clinic at 108 E. 25th St., where people with civil legal problems can get a free 30-minute consultation with a lawyer.

“You can’t sit in an office and wait for low-income people to find you,” said Jeanette Cole, St. Ambrose’s director of legal services. “They face too many hurdles, like transportation or child care. If you don’t get to them, the problems don’t get better. You must address the legal issues early on.”

Since its founding in 1968, St. Ambrose has helped more than 100,000 families with their housing needs, including counseling for first-time home buyers, a home sharing service, rental services, and a home redevelopment program that renovates vacant houses.

Foreclosure services and the legal program counsel people who can’t pay their mortgage and provide direct representation to people in default and facing foreclosure. Increasingly, the legal staff is engaging clients with legal problems that aren’t directly related to housing – but can ultimately lead to economic instability.

The key, Cole said, is getting to them early.

“What we’re seeing is that people get in denial, they get overwhelmed and deny there’s a problem,” she said. “If they knew there’s someone they can ask for help, it can prevent a problem form turning into a disaster.”

One example is payday loans.

“We try to get to them before it turns into a problem,” Cole said. “We try to firm up their financial stability so that their housing remains stable. We meet with them informally or we schedule appointments.”

The new clinic, which will formally open next month with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in attendance, is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“I hired an administrative assistant and a community liaison who also works for Councilman Nick Mosby,” Cole said. “He goes to community meetings and is really good at speaking and getting the word out…He’s a live presence in the community.”
Now that the office is staffed and operating, the next step is to meet with churches and schools where St. Ambrose staff can make presentations.

“We go where the clients are,” Cole added. “Although we’re citywide, we’re focused on the neighborhood near our office to help people access legal services. We take it to the and help them with their problems. It’s to help families and the neighborhood.”

Many people who come to St. Ambrose for housing counseling also have legal problems that need to be addressed. “By assisting with whatever needs to be done, we get to them as soon as we can,” Cole said. “It ultimately helps children, families and the neighborhood.”

Schools are also a source of potential clients.

“We’re contacting counselors to see what issues they’re seeing with the children,” Cole said. “We hope to meet with parents before or after school. We’ve prepared lots of educational brochures and show them how to use the People’s Law Library and our online intake.”

With a legal staff of just three lawyers, St. Ambrose is limited in the amount of direct representation it can provide. “We can’t represent everyone,” Cole noted. “We try to identify real problems. We can do something to help them a lot of the time, and then offer education, referrals and advice.”

The legal program will continue its collaboration with the University of Maryland Carey School of Law in providing low-cost legal help to people in the community.

“We’ll continue to work with the JustAdvice program,” Cole said. “We schedule sessions twice a month at The Living Well, a storefront available for community meetings that we rent. Maryland Law students set it up. Sometimes we have 15 people with scheduled appointments.”

Law students are also the focus of new legal clerkships at St. Ambrose.

“It gives them an opportunity to work with clients and shows them the public service aspect of the profession, either so they can pursue a career or use the experience on their resume, Cole said. “It also helps the see the huge demand for pro bono.”

Joe Surkiewicz is director of communications at the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore. His email is jsurkiewicz@hprplaw.org

The Compassion Gap

Originally posted in The New York Times
By NICHOLAS KRISTOF
March 1, 2014

SOME readers collectively hissed after I wrote a week ago about the need for early-childhood interventions to broaden opportunity in America. I focused on a 3-year-old boy in West Virginia named Johnny Weethee whose hearing impairment had gone undetected, leading him to suffer speech and development problems that may dog him for the rest of his life.

A photo of Johnny and his mom, Truffles Weethee, accompanied the column and readers honed in on Truffles’ tattoos and weight.

“You show a photograph of a fat woman with tons of tattoos all over that she paid for,” one caller said. “And then we — boohoo — have to worry about the fact that her children aren’t cared for properly?”

On Twitter, Amy was more polite: “My heart breaks for Johnny. I have to wonder if the $$ mom spent on tattoos could have been put to better use.”

“This is typical of the left,” Pancho scolded on my Facebook page. “It’s not anyone’s fault. Responsibility is somebody else’s problem.”

To me, such outrage at a doting mom based on her appearance suggests the myopic tendency in our country to blame poverty on the poor, to confuse economic difficulties with moral failures, to muddle financial lapses with ethical ones.

There is an income gap in America, but just as important is a compassion gap. Plenty of successful people see a picture of a needy child and their first impulse is not to help but to reproach.

To break cycles of poverty, we have the tools to improve high school graduation rates, reduce teen pregnancies and increase employment. What we lack is the will to do so.

There may be neurological biases at work. A professor at Princeton found that our brains sometimes process images of people who are poor or homeless as if they were not humans but things.

Likewise, psychology experiments suggest that affluence may erode compassion. When research subjects are asked to imagine great wealth, or just look at a computer screen saver with money, they become less inclined to share or help others. That may be why the poorest 20 percent of Americans give away a larger share of their incomes than the wealthiest 20 percent.

The generosity of the poor always impresses me. In West Virginia, I visited a trailer that housed eight people and sometimes many more. A woman in the home, Lynmarie Sargent, 30, was once homeless with a month-old baby, and that discomfort and humiliation seared her so that she lets other needy families camp out in her trailer and eat. Sometimes she houses as many as 17.

Sargent is an unemployed former addict with a criminal record, struggling to stay clean of drugs, get a job and be a good mom. She has plenty to learn from middle-class Americans about financial planning, but wealthy people have plenty to learn from her about compassion.

A Pew survey this year found that a majority of Republicans, and almost one-third of Democrats, believe that if a person is poor the main reason is “lack of effort on his or her part.”

It’s true, of course, that the poor are sometimes lazy and irresponsible. So are the rich, with less consequence.

Critics note that if a person manages to get through high school and avoid drugs, crime and parenting outside of marriage, it’s often possible to escape poverty. Fair enough. But if you’re one of the one-fifth of children in West Virginia born with drugs or alcohol in your system, if you ingest lead from peeling paint as a toddler, if your hearing or vision impairments aren’t detected, if you live in a home with no books in a gang-ridden neighborhood with terrible schools — in all these cases, you’re programmed for failure as surely as children of professionals are programed for success.

So when kids in poverty stumble, it’s not quite right to say that they “failed.” Often, they never had a chance.

Researchers also find that financial stress sometimes impairs cognitive function, leading to bad choices. Indian farmers, for example, test higher for I.Q. after a harvest when they are financially secure. Alleviate financial worry, and you can gain 13 points in measured I.Q.

The tattoos that readers saw on Truffles are mostly old ones, predating Johnny, and she is passionate about helping him. That’s why she enrolled him in a Save the Children program that provides books that she reads to him every day. In that trailer in Appalachia, I don’t see a fat woman with tattoos; I see a loving mom who encapsulates any parent’s dreams for a child.

Johnny shouldn’t be written off at the age of 3 because of the straw he drew in the lottery of birth. To spread opportunity, let’s start by pointing fewer fingers and offering more helping hands.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.