Hope for Housing Assistance

By Colleen Sinsky

To tell you the truth, when doing this kind of work against homelessness, I usually find it easier to keep my nose to the grindstone and maintain a pretty “zoomed-in” perspective of the housing crisis.  As an individual, I can see positive, tangible results with the individuals I’m working with that day.  If someone needs a ride to urgent care, a supportive presence during an operation, and a chocolate shake afterwards, it’s easy to do that.  Easy to do the manual labor required to move a load of furniture into a once empty apartment or organize a community bbq and kickball party.

What’s harder for me is trying to wrap my head around the endless need and limited resources on the state or national level.  Daily tasks might be difficult, frustrating or even heartbreaking- but never overwhelmingly hopeless.  Earlier this week I read an article on the Huffington Post called “Sheltering America’s Children“.  According to writer Barbara Sard and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the number of desperately poor households, who live on $2 per person per day or less has increased 130% since 1996.  I’m absolutely floored that this statistic is true in the United States, and that that level of extreme poverty is the daily reality for 1,500,000 households. Even more shocking is that just one in five of these households is receiving housing assistance due to limited funding.

The demand for housing assistance is so high that families in the District of Columbia now applying for Section 8 assistance are put on a twenty year waitlist. You read that right. A twenty year waitlist for housing would be a joke if it wasn’t so tragic. And Multnomah County isn’t any better. Instead of a ridiculously long waitlist like DC, our Section 8 waitlist was closed years and years ago.

When it was last opened in 2006 nearly 10,000 applications were received in the two-week window. The good news is that the waitlist is opening again for ten days beginning November 1. Obviously this is a big deal for everyone at JOIN, and we’re all gearing up to submit applications with a huge portion of the folks we work with who are struggling with high market rent rates.

Even when demand far outstrips available assistance, at least there’s a glimmer of hope when your name is one of tens of thousands on a lottery-style waitlist.