Every year during the holiday season, the Chattanooga Times Free Press asks its readers to donate to the Neediest Cases Fund, administered by the Partnership for Families, Adults and Children year round to help local residents whose needs cannot be met through traditional sources. All contributions are acknowledged in the newspaper. This year's fundraising effort will continue through Dec. 31.
From the windows in her new home, the client can see the trees during the prettiest time of the year.
The space is much larger than the dilapidated rental home she shared with her mother. She likes the fact that her apartment, on the building's second floor, has screens on the windows to keep out lizards, and that her landlord allows her to keep her beloved black cats, Teddy and Baby.
"I think I've got the best one in the building," the woman said of her apartment.
But about six months ago none of this was reality. The client, 52, had just lost her mother, her financial support, and was about to be homeless.
The woman is developmentally disabled, and her only source of income was her mother's Social Security.
"I had an open case on her mother. Once she passed, I requested to have an open case on [the client]," said Retha Chapman, a case manager at the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults. "We knew that things were not going to go well since she did not have income."
The client is served by the federal Victims of Crime Act, because she has been victimized in the past and is at high risk of being victimized again. Most VOCA cases are short term and are transferred to other agencies once they are in a stable position through housing or other means. She is one of the few long-term cases in VOCA, receiving help with things like financial counseling, because she does not yet qualify for assistance through programs like elderly services, Chapman said.
Chapman kept the family in their home as long as she could, but when the woman's mother died, she was unable to pay the rent. She moved into a long-term stay motel -- the only place she could find that accepted pets -- for about seven weeks until she located permanent housing.
Chapman used $150 from the Neediest Cases fund to supplement housing vouchers and help pay for the first three months of rent for the client's apartment. The client also received $135 to stay in the motel for a week while she was waiting for her apartment to be ready, after all other options to provide her with housing had been exhausted. A family group may apply for Neediest Cases funds multiple times a year, as long as the total does not exceed the budget of $500 per family group, said Karen Murphy, volunteer coordinator at Partnership FCA.
Locating an apartment for the client on a budget proved to be a challenge, Chapman said. The location needed to be safe, accessible to public transportation and pet-friendly, as well as affordable.
"I love having the trees all around, and I can walk to the bus and grocery store," the client said. From the long-term stay motel, "the bus didn't go noplace."
Chapman is still working to help the client get furniture for her home, though the woman said she doesn't need much. In her living room, she has an executive-style chair with an ottoman, a television set and a table where she keeps her clock radio, cassette tapes -- George Strait is her favorite -- and things to read.
She and her mother used to get the newspaper, but now she either gets her reading materials from The Public Library or from Chapman. She reminds Chapman that she needs magazines to read.
"I like everything," the client said. "I love to read."
The priority for the client was finding someplace she could keep her cats.
"What's not to like about them?" she said. "They're sweet, and they don't care if you've got a dollar or not."
Chapman said the client is great to work with and easy to please. They hope to find a table and some chairs as people clean their houses out during the holiday season.
"I'm grateful," the client said. "If it hadn't been for [Chapman], I would have been on the street."