Salvation Army grants aim to help people get, keep homes

jenniferbondmendoBy Riley Manning
Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Salvation Army has acquired two new grants to help break down the financial hurdles financially strapped homeless and near-homeless residents face to establish or keep a residence of their own.

Susan Gilbert, social services director for the Army, said one of the grants, called Rapid Rehousing, helps foot the hefty upfront costs – deposits and utilities – of moving into a new home.

“Especially when you consider furniture and things like that, moving by itself can easily cost around $2,000,” Gilbert said. “Most people we assist can’t save up that much money and survive at the same time.”

Jennifer Bondmendo, who got situated into her own apartment just this month, made the move to Tupelo from Alabama in February with virtually nothing to her name.

“I got clean from a drug addiction four years ago but had a lot of trouble finding a job,” she said. “So I came down here and the Salvation Army helped me apply and then start a job at a Sprint Mart.”

Like all who benefit from the Rapid Rehousing, Bondmendo had to fulfill her employment diligently. Gilbert said the grant required documentation in every form from employer reviews to turning in pay stubs. After three months of consistent work, the grant paid the deposits and the first two months’ rent on an apartment. The third month, the Army’s contribution drops to 66 percent of the rent, then in the fourth month, down to 33 percent. By the fifth month, the resident is completely independent.

“I’m so grateful. I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Bondmendo said. “It feels so good to have my own home, and I realize now that I’ve received this help, it’s my responsibility to keep it. I’ve never been good with money, so the Army is helping me make a budget.”

Gilbert said the second grant, the Homeless Prevention grant, helps keep struggling families from crossing the threshold into homelessness.

“We had a man who lost his job because the company he’d been with for 30 years restructured. He found a new job, but starting at the bottom of the ladder and paying child support, he couldn’t keep his head above water,” she said. “He wanted rental assistance, and he qualified, so we helped him pay his back rent.”

Like the Rapid Rehousing grant, recipients must hold steady employment for three months before receiving any money. But beyond finances, helping a person get back on their feet is an emotional victory.

“These people lose everything. At their wits’ end, they start to think they’re worthless,” Gilbert said. “When you think about it, keeping a family from losing their house is cheaper than getting them off the street. In fact, eliminating homelessness would be cheaper for all of us in the long run.”

Gilbert said the Army received the grant money in April and will have until December to spend it. Previously, the Salvation Army was allotted $75,000 annually to fund their homeless lodge. The grants, which will not affect their normal allotment, will increase that budget to $150,000.

“We have the resources to meet this need, and it’s welcome to anyone in Lee, Union, Prentiss, and northern Monroe counties,” she said. “I’m really proud of our government for stepping up and acknowledging that people are trying.”

riley.manning@journalinc.com