‘Doing my part’

January 01, 2018

Housing assistance helps couple feel like members of the community

AKnews6

Andres Romero and Delores Montano were living in a camper, barely scraping by, when they hit rock bottom. After their van was impounded and they were told they couldn’t keep their tow camper where it was, they had nowhere else to go. Winter was coming and Montano, several months pregnant, was worried. How would they stay warm? Where would they sleep? Where would they store the few possessions they owned?

“That camper was our home,” Romero said. “We were living in the woods for a while, and it was winter. We would sell clothes to make ends meet, but it wasn’t enough.”

After their bikes were stolen and the snow began to fall, Romero knew he needed help. He’d worked seasonally as a carpenter, handyman and fisherman, but now, in the depths of winter, he knew he couldn’t wait until summertime for new work.

He started with the McKinnell House, a Salvation Army program that helps homeless families with children find shelter. But with Delores still pregnant, they didn’t technically qualify. Still, the shelter knew the situation was dire and allowed the couple in.

From there, Catholic Social Services case manager Allizon Urrutia stepped in, using funds provided by Providence Health & Services Alaska to help end homelessness. Last year, Providence provided $225,000 in funding to Catholic Social Services’ rent and utility stabilization program. The program helps people like Romero and Montano get help when they need it most.

“The mission of Providence to serve the vulnerable directly aligns with ours at Catholic Social Services,” said Lisa Aquino, executive director at Catholic Social Services. “This funding supports
these vital services and leads to lasting impact.”

Just two weeks after the couple had arrived at McKinnell House, Urrutia was able to get Montano and Romero into a small apartment in Mountain View. With a safe place to sleep,
Montano could then focus on getting a job to help support his soon-to-be wife and child. Eager to work, it did not take him long to find full-time employment, earning enough now to make his rent payments on his own.

It’s around noon on a winter day, and Romero is home for his lunch break. Delores cooks a meal, while Romero feeds their son, Andy. The room is small and packed with furniture the couple has found at thrift stores and through trade. Signs of their life with a new baby are everywhere – bright toys, a bouncy seat, and a small baby blanket over a couch. It is warm, dry and inviting. It feels like home.

“This place works for us, and maybe we can find something bigger as Andy grows,” Romero says. “But we needed that boost because we couldn’t afford a security deposit. Now that I have a good job, it is looking better. I have a 401(k). I’m 43 years old, and I’ve never had a 401(k).”

This extra boost is exactly what Catholic Social Services’ rent and utility stabilization program is meant to give. Rather than providing a neverending handout, it aims to help people become productive and self-sufficient, which in turn creates healthier, happier attitudes.

“Through Providence’s commitment, we can provide essential case management to walk with people in need as they get back on their feet and find stability,” Aquino said.

For the Romero-Montano couple, Catholic Social Services not only helped them financially, but also let them know that they matter. There is hope, and help.

“Working, getting a paycheck,” Romero said, “is just like my mom. She worked hard and now I understand. Now I feel like a normal part of society. I’m doing my part.”