Friday, May 26, 2017

Jonathan Reconnects, with a Little Help from the MDHA Flex Fund

Jonathan* has not had what most would consider an easy life. His disability does not allow him to work. He had even experienced homelessness. That said, with the help of a City of Dallas program, Jonathan had made significant progress. He had gotten into an apartment with a rental subsidy, and had a steady though fixed income from SSI (Supplemental Security Income). He no longer needed to worry about experiencing homelessness. Or, so he thought…

The problem is that $733 a month, which is what SSI paid in 2016, does not always go far enough. Late last year, Jonathan fell behind on his electric bill, and on December 15th, his electricity was shut off. That night the temperature dropped to 36, and a few nights later it was down to 17 degrees!  
Jonathan’s case manager, Mirka, was able to help him make an appointment with Dallas County to apply for utility assistance, but they could not see him before the 27th. On top of that, his electric provider was not registered with Dallas County, so it would take another seven days following that appointment, before his electricity could be turned back on.

Jonathan was at wit’s end. He could not refrigerate his food, he could not cook, and he could not heat his apartment. What really worried him, though, was that his lease required that his apartment be connected to utilities, so he was now in violation of his lease. He was liable to find himself, not only without electricity, but without a place to live altogether.

Put yourself in Jonathan’s shoes at that moment. Imagine what that feels like, to be without electricity, mere days before Christmas, worried that you might be evicted. Now imagine that all of this is happening to you because of $53.53, which is approximately what many of us middle class folk might spend on a casual dinner with drinks, for two.

Fortunately, Mirka knew where to turn for help, the MDHA Flex Fund. The Flex Fund was designed by MDHA, with the help of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, to pay for minor but impactful expenditures that impede clients from (making progress in) ending their homelessness. In this case, it would work in a similar, if not identical, fashion. The Flex Fund could pay the electric bill, and not only make Jonathan’s home habitable again, but also shield him from being evicted and returning to homelessness, due to the violation of his lease.

Mirka completed the one page Flex Fund request form. It asks for the client’s information, the solution needed, including cost and vendor, articulation of how this solution will help the client end his or her homelessness, and an explanation of why other resources cannot provide it. (This prevents service duplication, and waste of funds.) She then emailed the form, with documentation from the electric provider, to MDHA.

Shavon Moore, MDHA’s Continuum of Care Resource Manager, received the request and quickly approved it. She suggested to Mirka, however, that they “top off” Jonathan’s account with another $50, so he would not be disconnected again before his utility assistance could be approved by Dallas County. She then went online to the electric provider’s website, and paid $103.53.
Within two hours, Jonathan’s electricity was reconnected, the lights were on, his refrigerator was humming again, and the apartment was feeling nice and toasty. Jonathan was finally able to rest easy, and not worry about becoming homeless again. This Christmas would be full of light and warmth, after all…

* Client’s name has been changed to protect his privacy. 

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