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Wed, Jul 29, 2020 at 3:25PM

Getting through this together

Coast Guard veteran “Emilio,” his wife “Juanita” and their teen son and daughter moved from Family Renew Community’s DeLand Residential Campus for families experiencing homelessness into a five-bedroom rental home in Daytona Beach on May 12. Last September, they were living in their car.

This is a brave time to step back out on your own.

A shaky job market and other uncertainties posed by the spread of the coronavirus have understandably slowed the journey out of homelessness for many of the families served in Family Renew Community’s housing program. Nonetheless, our families are moving ahead on that path. Eight courageous and determined families moved into permanent housing since March 1, when COVID-19 was first detected in Florida, well-prepared for long-term success.

DECEMBER UPDATE: So far this year, 25 families have overcome homelessness with help from Family Renew Community despite challenges posed by the pandemic. Emilio is now a hardware store manager and Juanita is working in real estate, careers they began training for while at Family Renew.

Their stories are all different. Emilio, Juanita and their children needed a second chance to make a fresh start.

 “They were just drowning, and they needed someplace to just be, and breathe,” says Kim Bandorf, Family Renew’s program manager in DeLand.

The woes holding the family under began with Emilio’s discharge from the Coast Guard after 17 years, with a disability for which he was not yet receiving benefits. Seeking a way forward, the couple packed up with their son, then 12, and daughter, then 15, and the family pets, leaving New York to stay with Juanita’s older son in Deltona. Juanita, 45, found work as drugstore manager, but Emilio, 38, had no luck. Within a few months, the housing arrangement turned sour.

“The son told her, ‘you’ve got to leave.’ The dog and cat could stay until they found a place,” Kim recalls.

They had no savings for deposits and were unable to find a place they could afford on Juanita’s salary. Newly homeless, they arrived at Family Renew Community in DeLand on Sept. 11. Within two weeks with Kim’s coaching, Emilio found a job at hardware store. With no rent or utility payments to worry about, they systematically paid down their debts, pared their bills, deposited more than half of their earnings into a savings account, and pursued Emilio’s partial disability claim.

Their household income increased fourfold. They built more than $18,000 in savings. They learned how to better manage their finances. When a housing subsidy voucher for persons with disabilities became available, they confidently took the bold leap out of homelessness.

If Family Renew Community’s patterns hold true, Emilio and Juanita have overcome homelessness for the long term. Data collected in July show that 95 percent of families who exited Family Renew Community’s housing program between Jan. 1, 2017, and June 30, 2020, remain stably housed. Also, 88 percent of those formerly homeless families who responded to a survey this month maintained stable employment, and 64 percent increased their income since leaving Family Renew. At least one parent in 50 percent of families responding attained further education or job training after leaving Family Renew Community.

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