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Disabled And Facing Homelessness

Posted on March 26, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Miguel Received Help From Catholic Charities

Miguel, disabled by three herniated discs, has been supporting his disabled wife and daughter by looking for items in the trash that can be sold. But the pickings, an old vase yesterday, a broken chair today, prove slim in his impoverished Morris Park neighborhood in the Bronx. He washes down these treasures, repairs them with glue and nails, then tries to sell them to neighbors not much better off than his family. 

“It is not easy but I survive,” says this 62-year-old, wincing while repositioning his back to relieve pain.

The least disabled of his family of three, survival has not been easy for this disabled man.  He supported his family from the time he was a young man until he became old by hauling packages from a factory’s top floor to its basement, he said.  But inflamed discs pushing against his spinal cord caught up with him. 

He did not want to give up. His wife, Maria, 55, and daughter, Gussett, 24, both depended on him.  Severe schizophrenia had disabled Maria for decades, ever since the crib death of their baby boy, leaving her shouting at invisible enemies.  And their daughter, Gussett, now 24, suffered from epilepsy since she was three months old leaving her cognitively disabled.

Together the family received just over $1000 in public disability benefits.  Their monthly rent rang in at nearly twice that amount, $1,995.  The dumpster dumps could not make up the difference. Quickly they fell behind in rent.  By the time they came to Catholic Charities NY, they owed $8220 in rent and faced eviction. 

“Where could they go?” Miguel asked his Catholic Charities case manager.  They already lived in one of the lowest-income neighborhoods in New York City.  Where could they find a home they could afford?

Valid questions.  The affordable housing crisis continues its rapid-fire escalation in New York City. Between 2004-2017, skyrocketing rents caused the loss of nearly one-half million affordable apartments, according to a recent report released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Particularly hard hit are poor, disabled families like Miguel’s.

Fortunately, Catholic Charities NY has the artillery needed to intervene.  Realizing the immediate threat of homelessness the family faced, their Catholic Charities NY case manager took a multi-prong approach.  Her goal, she said, was that at least one option would work. She negotiated with Miguel’s landlord, encouraging him to reduce the rent and delay the eviction.  She tapped into several NYC eviction-prevention programs for help paying the arrears.  And she covered her odds of success by helping the family search for an apartment they could afford with their reduced income. 

The landlord, unfortunately, refused to budge.  He had enough, he said, of Maria’s screams and banging on walls at all hours of the night.  Now the family owed him money and he wanted them out.  The backup approach, however, succeeded.  The case manager managed to hop scotch the family over the typically multiyear wait for affordable housing, qualifying them for immediate assistance based on Maria’s, Miguel’s and Gussett’s significant disabilities.

And that’s just for starters.  Not only did Catholic Charities NY help the family find an apartment they could afford but they also bought them beds, chairs and a dining room table for their new apartment, furniture to replace broken down pieces Miguel had found in the trash. 

“I have to take care of everyone in my family; cook, clean, make the beds,” Miguel said.  “Having a new home is wonderful but, on top of that, it’s meant so much to have someone listen and sympathize with me.”