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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Angie Drake, solutions coordinator for United Way of Rhea County, works at her office on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.

As housing costs in the Chattanooga area continue to outpace wage growth, local agencies are receiving more requests for assistance from people who never needed help before. For the many Chattanooga-area residents who live paycheck to paycheck, an unexpected illness, car repair or job loss could leave them homeless if they didn't get one-time help from the Neediest Cases Fund.

"Rent is a big thing here, or lack of a place to rent," said Angie Drake, a case manager for United Way of Rhea County.

Recently Drake has seen several clients whose landlords decided to remodel their apartments and then raised their rents to amounts they were unable to afford. Other clients received government-issued housing vouchers they were unable to use because landlords often don't want to deal with the hassle, she said.

Those who do find a place are usually spending the majority of their income on rent, even when the rent is in the $550-$650 range that Drake considers affordable for most of her clients.

When those clients experience one of life's "hiccups," as Drake calls the unavoidable occurrences that disrupt life's plans, it starts a cycle of need that's difficult to stop without help.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Angie Drake, solutions coordinator for United Way of Rhea County, works at her office on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.

If people get behind on their rent by a month, they find it's a lot harder to come up with $1,200 than $600, Drake said.

"It's like they just spiral," she said.

But using resources like the Neediest Cases Fund — started in 1914 by former Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs — can stop that downward spiral before it starts, Drake said.

One of her clients received funds for rent from Neediest Cases when his work hours were reduced significantly during the pandemic. The funds allowed him to keep his family of four housed while also remaining self-sufficient.

That's what the Neediest Cases Fund was designed to do — provide one-time assistance to people faced with unforeseen circumstances that leave them unable to pay their bills for one reason or another.

The fund is fueled by donations from Times Free Press readers during the annual campaign that runs from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Donors are recognized in the newspaper, and funds are distributed throughout the year to people in need by United Way of Greater Chattanooga and its partner agencies.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Angie Drake, solutions coordinator for United Way of Rhea County, works at her office on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.
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