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Linda Malerba: For most, homelessness is a paycheck away

Posted: February 11, 2010 9:37 p.m.
Updated: February 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Homelessness can happen to anyone — our friends, our neighbors or our family. The risk of being homeless is, for most, literally a paycheck away.  

Who knew there were families that are homeless in Santa Clarita? There are children sleeping in cars with their parents on a nightly basis.

A study released July 9, 2009, by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, based on surveys in January 2008, indicated about 664,000 homeless in the U.S., which is a low estimate. A total of 36 percent of these were families.

When families and individuals walk through our door at the Community Care Center at Lutheran Social Services, most are in crisis.

The case manager attempts to assess the crisis situation by triaging, based on personal safety issues and helping the client reach out to resources in the community.  

Action steps are individualized to the client’s ability to follow through on their own. Advocacy and assistance are provided where needed.  

Some clients just don’t know where to begin. We lend that helping hand. Empowerment of the client — looking at their strengths and abilities — is also important in their stabilization.  

At the same time, we reinforce to them that there are consequences and rewards to life choices. We let them know, “We won’t work harder for you than you do.”  

I also share my personal story of being a single mom with a 6-year-old and 18-month-old, working full time, going to school at night, losing my house due to a divorce and lack of child support being paid.

I always managed to make ends meet, even if there was too much month left once the money was spent.  

I let these clients know anything is possible if you try to be a good person, have the right attitude and keep the faith.  

Inspirational speaker Zig Ziglar wrote: “Regardless of your lot in life, you can build something beautiful on it.” I truly believe that.

All people cannot be helped.

There are those we see holding signs on street corners, who have developed a “cottage industry” in asking for handouts. When I see these individuals, I pull my car over and check to see if there is anything I can do to help them.

About nine times out of 10, I get one of the many excuses I have heard over the years I have been in this field.

Basically, just making enough to get by is “good enough.”

Our help with employment searches, housing assistance and referrals, as well as money management, is also part of our program.

Finding affordable housing is always a challenge.  

I have always felt the most cost-effective way to prevent homelessness is to prevent it from happening. Once we house and help employ a client, we do try to stay in contact.

I always tell them, “Whenever you have to make a hard decision, and you’re not quite sure about it, call us. We are here for you.”  

Nothing warms my heart more than hearing from a client from the past, knowing we made a difference in their lives and they still remember us for it.

Linda Malerba is a director of case management for Lutheran Social Services, which works with the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter to help homeless families. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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