GOSHEN — The Goshen Housing Authority is joining forces with a local church to help families get back on their feet with a project they are calling Operation 320.
The Rev. Alan Griffin of First Presbyterian Church of Goshen is partnering with the housing authority to help low-income citizens sign up for housing vouchers that make rent more affordable.
The city has 320 vouchers, and at one point 57 were unclaimed, Griffin said.
“Every day we have folks coming into the church who are in need who would qualify for them, but for some reason, they weren’t hearing of it or didn’t understand the process or had somehow gotten dropped from the program because of inaction on their part or whatever,” he said.
Housing authority executive director Pam Kennedy said people sign up for vouchers, but many fail to follow through with the paperwork. Applicants have 60 days to complete the process, find a place to live and start paying rent, she said. That’s where Operation 320 enters the picture.
Every person who walks through the church’s doors for help will be asked if he knows about the housing program. Griffin said he is recruiting people to walk families through the process, helping them fill out paperwork and stay on task.
“I think they’ll feel more comfortable,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes it’s hard to make a lot of decisions on your own, and sometimes it’s hard to make smart decisions on your own.”
For some people there is a stigma about asking for help, Griffin said, but others find government programs too complicated to navigate.
Another of Operation 320’s goals is to connect families with other services in the community that might help in their time of need, like food pantries and health care.
“These can be very special opportunities to get to know people deeply and help them reconnect with what’s really important in life,” Griffin said. “So often we get distracted by the busyness of life and we lose sight of what’s really important, and sometimes those moments of crisis, even though they hurt, can be some of the best occasions in our lives because we suddenly remember what life is really about.”
Housing voucher applicants must meet a series of eligibility requirements that take income, citizenship and criminal background checks, among other factors, into account.
Griffin said people seeking help at the church range from middle- and upper-middle-class families who fell victim to the economic crash to people who have medical bills piling up and others who have jobs but are underemployed.
Griffin especially worries about the youngest members of the community.
“We have a number of folks related to the local school system at the church,” he said. “One of the frustrations they often express is how kids will be in their classroom one week, and the next week they’ll be dropped, and six months later they’ll be back, or they might be at another school. They don’t have any stability, and they get behind in school.”
People seeking housing vouchers tend to range from seniors and disabled individuals to the homeless, people who have been in work-release programs and women escaping domestic violence, Kennedy said.
“I really think it’s going to help with the church advocating for these people and just helping them like a parent or a best friend would help,” she said.
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.