Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many DeKalb County residents facing economic uncertainty or health-related challenges struggled to find steady housing for themselves and their families, often ending up in extended stay motels that eat up their meager funds and are frequently unsafe or even dangerous.
But the pandemic deepened the problems and while the pandemic has eased, too many of our fellow citizens are still forced to choose between cramped, costly lodgings or life on the street.
Working to help people escape the extended stay trap, DeKalb County Commission Presiding Officer and District 1 Commissioner Robert Patrick helped fund the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Georgia’s Motel2Home program. It offers financial assistance to qualified families to help them move into permanent housing.
“This is the kind of program that goes to the heart of why I ran for public office,” Commissioner Patrick said, “To help families in our county who are doing all they can to work and go to school, and still just can’t quite get their heads above water financially. What we’ve seen time and again is that stable families can be thrown into poverty from losing a job, a healthcare crisis or an unforeseen misfortune that’s frequently beyond their control.”
The SVdP Georgia, which has been offering assistance to poor and underserved communities here since 1903, launched the Motel2Home program in response to a 2019 study that confirmed what its workers and volunteers had already noted: That many extended stay motels have essentially become homeless shelters in suburban areas where residents may end up living for months or even years.
Heads of households which have a child under 18 may be eligible for up to $2,500 in housing assistance under the program, which also requires that people have been in a hotel for at least 30 days. They must also verify they have enough steady income to meet rent and utility payments once they’ve relocated.
According to the Society, the plight facing some of those seeking its help is deeply emotional. In this video, one mother recounts the pressure and shame she felt trying to scrape together the money to keep a roof over their heads.
“I had these babies looking at me I couldn’t break down in front of because I didn’t want them to be afraid,” said Trayce Neal. “You’re in this cycle of $1,600 every two weeks to live in a motel … you spend more than you would on a mortgage.”
Another single mother had her life upended when a breast cancer diagnosis wiped out her savings and left her with nowhere to go.
“I was asking ‘Why me? What did I do to deserve this?’” Christy Feltman said. “I was having chemo, and somebody said ‘You need to call St. Vincent de Paul.’”
The Motel2Home program assisted her with funding and finding a home, taking a huge burden off her shoulders, she said.
“They said, ‘You do what you need to get yourself better, we’ve got this,’” recalled Feltman, whose cancer treatment was successful. “Now I can beat anything,” she said “It’s gone!”
Patrick said he knows the Motel2Home program can only help a fraction of those facing housing insecurity in DeKalb and beyond, but he is heartened by its successes and sees a benefit that goes beyond the individuals being helped.
“This really is building up a community up piece by piece,” he said. “When you’ve helped one family find secure housing, you’re laying the groundwork for more secure neighborhoods, better schools and more self-sufficient citizens.”
For more information or to apply to the St. Vincent De Paul’s Motel2Home program, visit the website svdpgeorgia.org/Motel2Home or call 678-892-6160.