Last year the staff of Catholic Family Center’s Community Resource Services helped 4,638 individuals from more than 1,800 households in the Rochester area.
Some of these individuals needed food while others needed help making their rent payments, but all of them were seeking emergency assistance to fulfill their basic needs, noted Erica King, Catholic Family Center’s associate director of housing.
“Our biggest focus is how to stabilize people that are in crisis,” explained King, who oversees Community Resource Services.
Some of the funding that allows Community Resource Services to stabilize these individuals comes from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal. Now in its 48th year, the appeal raises funds for the emergency funds of various Catholic Charities agencies and other affiliated agencies throughout the Diocese of Rochester. The 2017-18 appeal, which has a goal of $45,000, began at Thanksgiving and runs through February.
Community Resource Services received approximately $8,000 from last year’s appeal, and those funds were used to help clients in a variety of ways, King said. When people come to Community Resource Services for help, the first thing they do is sign up for a time slot to meet with a case manager, she said.
“We try to assess our folks when they come in to get a bigger picture of what’s going on in their lives … so we can get a better picture of what else we can connect them to,” King said. “When somebody comes in we’re trying to get to the root cause. We want to drill down and figure out what is causing you to have this emergency and how do we keep it from happening?”
Many people come to Community Resource Services for food, which the agency usually is able to provide from its pantry. Many come in search of money, but the agency has an extremely limited supply of funds and only in very rare cases is it able to provide direct financial assistance, King said.
“There are so many people that we want to help, and sometimes we don’t get to (help) as many as we would like,” she said.
What caseworkers are able to do, however, is to listen to their clients and work with them to find ways to improve their situations going forward. Sometimes that means helping a client work out a payment plan with a landlord, sometimes it means finding other benefits the client may qualify for and other times it means having difficult conversations about what lifestyle changes the client may need to be able to live within his or her means, King said.
“We’re trying to figure out what we need to put in place so that you can remain stable by the time you leave here,” she added.
Many of the people who come to Community Resource Services were financially stable until quite recently, but sudden job losses or health crises turned their lives upside-down almost overnight. This fact contradicts a popular stereotype that paints people in need of help as people who are always in crisis and continually dependent upon various benefit systems such as food stamps, King said. Many of the people Community Resource Services helps, however, are hard-working people who are surprised and embarrassed to find themselves in need of temporary assistance.
“I think what people are surprised about is how anybody can be in this situation. There are so many people that we meet that never thought they’d find themselves in this situation,” she said. “Any one of us is not far from a situation where we might need someone to guide us to the appropriate services.”