The holiday season is synonymous with the warmth of home and family for many, yet for hundreds of families in Mercer County, this joy is threatened by the imminent risk of losing their homes this month. In 2023, a monthly average of 450 unique calls were made into HomeFront’s housing hotline by families facing an imminent housing crisis. In the last fiscal year, HomeFront provided Emergency Rental Assistance to 552 individuals on the brink of eviction with back rent or first month’s rent and a security deposit on a home the family can afford long term. Keeping families in a home for the holidays – and year-round – is an incredibly important part of HomeFront’s work.
While the nonprofit is widely recognized for its HomeFront Family Campus, a temporary shelter for families already experiencing homelessness, many may be surprised to discover HomeFront’s robust homelessness prevention program. The initial focus is on evaluating whether a family can retain their current residence or transition smoothly to a new one, minimizing disruptions to school and work schedules and reducing emotional and physical trauma.
“Numerous credible studies have delved into the issue of child homelessness and its detrimental long-term effects. Children exposed to homelessness face an increased risk of academic dropout, behavioral issues, and potential involvement in the criminal justice system” emphasized Sarah Steward, HomeFront’s Chief Executive Officer. “Our primary concern should be safeguarding families from the profound trauma often associated with losing their homes. From a pragmatic standpoint, even for the most skeptical individuals, it is economically wiser to assist a struggling parent with overdue rent than to resort to eviction, which often leads to months or years of displacement starting with placing the entire family in a shelter.”
Marcella, a HomeFront client whose name has been changed to protect her identity, called into the housing hotline when she fell behind on rent after being laid off from her job she had held for five years. “I was so surprised when work called me and told me I know no longer had a job there. I knew they had been restructuring our team, but I did not know after five years of hard work, I’d be the one getting laid off. I used all the money I had saved as a buffer to pay the rent for the next few months, but I didn’t have enough to make my December payment. I just accepted a job offer at a local school district as a Parent Liaison but my start date isn’t until January and then it will be too late.”
Carrie Ann Ploppert, Director of Housing Stabilization, emphasized the crucial requirement for flexible funding within this program. She explained, “While we are fortunate to receive substantial government grants that enable us to prevent eviction for numerous families annually, there are instances where funding falls short, or a family lacks the exhaustive necessary paperwork to qualify for government programs. Private donations play a pivotal role in bridging these gaps, as seen in Marcella’s situation. Facing an urgent need for an additional $1,700 by month’s end to prevent homelessness, a combination of government support and private contributions allowed us to provide comprehensive assistance and stabilize her family’s housing situation.”
Marcella and her three children, the youngest who is facing developmental delays, have lived in the same apartment for the last three years and she stayed up at night thinking about the conversation she was going to have to have with her kids when the eviction notice came. “This is the most secure me and my kids have ever felt. I was in an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship with their dad for years, and I finally left him only to find myself at risk of being homeless,” Marcella told her HomeFront case manager. “Being able to stay in our home means we won’t have to worry about going to a shelter, sleeping on a couch or in my car, and allows me to focus on giving my kids the security they need. Yes, the holidays are important, and I hope I can get my kids a few things as gifts, but giving them the chance to continue to stay in their home is what’s most important to me.”
About HomeFront: HomeFront is a Mercer County-based nonprofit agency that specializes in meeting immediate needs and providing long term support for local families impacted by poverty and homelessness. The organization offers 35 integrated programs, which include dignified shelter, affordable homes, adult education, quality childcare, preschool, summer camp, after school programs, employment training and placement, case management, and necessities such as food, clothing, hygiene items, diapers, and furniture. The HomeFront model provides the structure and stability that allows families find stability and achieve an independent future. To learn more about HomeFront and contribute to their cause, visit www.homefrontnj.org or call 609-989-9417. Your involvement can make a meaningful impact on the lives of those striving to overcome the challenges of poverty and housing insecurity.