GOSHEN — When the Goshen community came together almost two years ago to support a Goshen Housing Authority in turmoil, they made it possible for the agency to do the same for local families in need.
Sierra Lee is one example. At 20, she spent a cold morning on Thursday, Dec. 12, sitting anxiously in the basement of Goshen City Church of the Brethren.
Lee was facing the prospect of no more assistance in housing her and her 4-year-old son.
Lee had been in the foster program for the three years, but upon reaching the age of 20 would lose all benefits she had received from Collaborative Care to that point.
After leaving a foster home at 18, foster children may enter Collaborative Care, which is also run through the Department of Child Services. The program assists with housing and living expenses and provides resources to help newly independent foster children get on their feet.
Eligibility for those benefits, however, ends the day before the individual’s 20th birthday.
Her benefit eligibility was running out and she’d been unable to hold her job at a day care due to transportation issues.
Lee was now confronted with the possibility that she and her son might not be able to afford the apartment they had been living in for the past year.
“The whole situation with being in foster care revolves around me being homeless at one point,” she said.
“It’s always been a fear of mine to be homeless again and I was so worried about what was I going to do after the program was over.”
But Thursday, the day she celebrated her 20th birthday, the Goshen Housing Authority just happened to be holding interviews to increase the use of housing vouchers by year’s end.
Luckily, she’d done her homework leading up to this day.
Before her benefits would run out from the Collaborative Care program, Lee sat down with a counselor to help plan her next moves after she was no longer eligible for those benefits.
“They have these people that you meet with once a week or every other week that come and teach you things and help you learn about the things around you that will help you survive once they’re out of the picture,” Lee said.
She would need to retain housing benefits if she was to keep a roof over her head, and that of her 4-year-old son, Jameire.
So she filled out her application for the GHA’s voucher program and waited in anticipation in the church basement Thursday morning, hoping the day would yield hope for her and Jameire.
By 4 p.m., after her personal interview with a GHA staff member, Lee had her answer: She was eligible for and would receive housing assistance.
“I definitely feel relieved because I’m not working or anything,” she said. “It was very stressful and I was trying to figure it all out.”
Not that long ago, the Lees’ story might not have been possible.
The Goshen Housing Authority was nearly shuttered early last year after an investigation found that funds had been mismanaged.
The GHA was facing a significant shortfall in the voucher program due to the misappropriated funds and was facing shutdown when the Goshen City Council intervened in February 2012.
The council, after much debate, agreed to contribute more than $500,000 to the agency. That gift, coupled with private donations from many individuals and organizations from the community help make up the shortfall in order to save the voucher program and the housing assistance program in general.
Kauffman said saving the GHA was a high priority when word first got out that the agency was in trouble. “They provide services to a segment of the community that needs some help,” Mayor Allan Kauffman said.
The housing authority’s recovery has not been easy and the investigation into where all the missing funds went continues, but Kauffman believes things are headed in the right direction.
“There’s still some things in the closet that may come out,” Kauffman said of the investigation. “But they’re getting all the financial information they need to know they’re doing the right thing. We feel really good.”
Kauffman also said merging offices with the Warsaw Housing Authority has helped as well, especially to keep administrative costs down for the program.
The city council’s decision almost two years ago now came out of much discussion about the need to save the agency.
But their eventual consent has made it possible for the Goshen Housing Authority to continue to help people get on their feet in a place of their own.
For Lee, the assistance provided by the GHA will be a major boost as she looks for work and continues her schooling.
She’s a student at Ivy Tech studying early childhood education, and between work, school and taking care of herself and her son, she has a lot going on.
The benefits she’ll now receive from the housing authority ease at least some of her burden.
“It’s been kind of rough; it’s been a long year,” Lee said. “It’s been a long road and I don’t think it’s over yet, but we’re getting there.”