“Tremendously blessed.” Those are the words Catherine Johnson uses to describe her life after she and her two grandchildren were able to move out of an extended stay hotel into an apartment thanks to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Motel2Home program, with funding from the office of DeKalb County District 1 Commissioner and Presiding Officer Robert Patrick.
“I was in that hotel for 18 months, and I met so many families like mine,” said Johnson. “Some have been there for years.”
Commissioner Patrick said he’s proud to help steer funding toward the Motel2Home program. “There are so many families that need help finding stable, safe housing all over DeKalb County, even in places where poverty and homelessness are not really visible to the casual observer,” he says. “A lot of people like Ms. Johnson find themselves falling through the cracks when an unexpected health crisis or loss of employment comes their way through no fault of their own.”
Johnson was raising her two grandchildren and working as a nurse’s assistant when Covid hit. Health issues meant she couldn’t work. While she had benefits through disability assistance, she couldn’t keep up her rental payments and was evicted from her home.
“I had to find someone who would rent to me after having an eviction, and I didn’t know that you could go to court to get an extension,” Johnson said. “So, I ended up at The Haven Hotel in Stone Mountain for 18 months.”
She was in the hotel’s office when she saw a notice about the Motel2Home program. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul launched the initiative in response to a 2019 study that confirmed what its workers and volunteers had already noted: That many extended stay motels have essentially become shelters for people who lose their homes in suburban areas. Residents may end up living in these motels for months or even years.
Under the Motel2Home program, heads of households may be eligible for up to $2,500 in housing assistance, provided they have been living 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’re relocated.
The St. Vincent de Paul program helped Johnson find an apartment at Decatur’s Hidden Woods Apartments.
“I’m on disability so I didn’t have enough money to pay for the apartment deposit or the money for the first month’s rent or anything,” she said. “They paid for my deposit and first month’s rent, and helped me get some furniture because I had lost mine when I put it in storage. I was trying to pay for that and my hotel bill, and I couldn’t pay for both.”
Johnson and her family moved into their new home in April. “I didn’t think they would do so much and do it so soon,” she added.
Johnson’s grandchildren – a boy in the fourth grade and a girl in seventh grade – are delighted with their new lodgings, she said. “They enjoyed their summer but they’re loving being back in school,” said Johnson after wrapping up a day of back-to-school shopping.
Patrick said he’s been very pleased with the results his office has seen as a result of the Motel2Home program. “I understand that a lot of people have no other options sometimes, but these extended stay motels are often so costly that they become a trap,” Patrick said. “Anything that can help our residents get back on their feet and into real residential housing is a major win for DeKalb County.”
Johnson couldn’t agree more. “The homeless situation is so bad right now,” she said. “I would ask anyone who can help this program to please do so because there are a lot of families in this situation. I’m so grateful for what they did for me and my family.”