The majority of the Federal Government has been shut down for over a month, and few are feeling the effects more than those on fixed or limited incomes. At Hillcrest Transitional Housing, the political impasse has created new challenges for clients overcoming homelessness. It has also validated one of the organization’s key components: teaching clients the importance of budgeting and the need for emergency savings funds.
Hillcrest provides transitional housing and other programs that combat homelessness by building the self-sufficiency of families, youth and individuals. Its flagship program is a 90-day timeframe in which clients receive rent- and utility-free housing. In exchange for housing, clients agree to follow program guidelines, find and maintain full-time employment, attend life skills classes, participate in community living, and strictly adhere to an “all needs, no wants” budget plan while paying down debts and building up savings.
“Helping our clients know how to spend and save their money is vitally important to their permanent path out of homelessness,” said Tom Lally, President and CEO of Hillcrest. “Our case managers go through every receipt to help our clients live within their means so that when they graduate our program, they have the skills they need to be successful.”
The government shutdown has provided some unique challenges for both Hillcrest’s current residents, many of whom receive assistance from programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as for a handful of both current residents and graduates whose primary source of income comes from being in the federal workforce.
“I have to stick to my budget as much as possible, and the uncertainty of when the shutdown will end is very difficult,” said Traci Vernon, a 2017 Hillcrest graduate. “I want to provide for myself and my family, but a paycheck can be the difference between having a home and being homeless.”
Vernon recently joined Hillcrest as a resident manager of its Lee’s Summit, MO campus. As a resident manager, Vernon receives an apartment in exchange for monitoring the property and residents during overnight hours. However, for income she works as a seasonal data transcriber for the Internal Revenue Service. Because of the shutdown, the IRS workforce is currently reduced and Vernon has been unable to return for the current tax season. Vernon also receives SNAP assistance. On January 20, the federal government distributed the final SNAP payments until further action by Congress, leaving Vernon and many of the other Hillcrest residents with new challenges for their monthly budget and a greater dependence on Hillcrest’s food pantry.
“Learning to budget and track my money and expenses has helped so much,” said Vernon. “When you are uncertain of your next dollar, you have to spend wisely. The shutdown has made me see the importance of having at least three months of savings.”
According to Lally, there are opportunities for the community to support Hillcrest’s work. Donations of food, paper goods and cleaning supplies for the residents’ pantry helps Hillcrest clients stretch their income as far as possible. Financial gifts support Hillcrest’s outcomes by providing the short-term housing and case manager assistance required for clients to solve the circumstances that led to their homelessness. There are also a number of volunteer opportunities throughout the organization.
“Hillcrest is in the business of change,” said Lally. “There is no better investment in combating homelessness than investing in individuals ready and willing to overcome their past and embrace their place as self-reliant, contributing members of society. We are changing lives.”
Vernon is grateful for Hillcrest and its support of her future hopes and dreams.
“Hillcrest really does give a hand up to those who just need a little support and guidance,” she said. “They are truly invested in me. I don’t know where I would be without them.”
Hillcrest serves youth, individuals and families throughout the greater Kansas City region through its five residential sites in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in Kansas and Jackson County in Missouri. Hillcrest also provides rapid re-housing services in Kansas City’s Northland and in Northwest Missouri. Last year, Hillcrest served over 650 adults and youth. To learn more about Hillcrest Transitional Housing, visit www.hillcrestkc.org or call (816) 994-6934.