Story of the Week: April 20, 2015
by Morgan Gray
I first met Peter (*named changed for client confidentiality) at the housing office at Pathways Vermont. Pathways provides support to individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Peter was meeting with his service coordinator and sipping his coffee. He is a sweet older gentleman with a hearty laugh. Peter is a Vietnam veteran who has a job, but he didn’t make enough to be able to pay his expenses, and save up for a security deposit. He qualified for the SSVF (Supportive Services for Veterans and Families) program, which would pay his security deposit and five months rent, so that Peter could save money during that time, and afford to maintain the lease on his own.
Accompanied by my supervisor, I took Peter to several apartment showings. Some ended up being too far away from town, as he didn't have a car, and needed to be able to take public transportation. Others, unfortunately, were owned by unresponsive landlords. I'd contact them the day before to confirm a showing, but the day of the showing they wouldn't answer my calls. When my supervisor called from a different number, they picked up, only to inform him that the unit had already been rented. While Peter had initially been chatty and optimistic, as more and more showings either didn't take place or didn’t yield results, I saw Peter stop smiling and talking. After a showing, he would take solace in having a cigarette alone outside.
He told me that he and his service coordinator went to the V.A. to explore other options, as things weren’t panning out. Peter was told by the V.A. that while they couldn't put him up in a hotel, they could give him a tent and a sleeping bag, to which he replied, "I'm seventy years old!" It was shortly after that day that the snow began to fall. I, myself was discouraged for a while as well, imagining Peter having to struggle to set up a tent outside in the cold.
Soon after, I found a place for rent in St. Albans. By this time I was authorized to work alone, so Peter and I went for a drive to take a look. It was a small place, but clean and warm, and in walking distance to basic amenities. I saw Peter's eyes light up as we admired the old fashioned windows of the Victorian style building. The landlord and Peter got on well, and we signed preliminary paperwork. Peter emphasized how excited he was to move in.
Now was the hard part. SSVF funding provides the security deposit and first month's rent, in the first check to the landlord. However, a lot of SSVF paperwork checks to landlords had been arriving late, and I didn't want this to reflect badly on Peter. I didn't want the landlord to anticipate that Peter would be just as inconsistent and unreliable with regard to paying rent. Thankfully, the landlord was willing to take a leap of faith that the beginning would be bumpy, but Peter would be a good tenant. I'm grateful every day that Peter was able to move into his new apartment before winter truly arrived. This was a simultaneously humbling and heartwarming experience that I’ll always remember.