Together We Can Prevent Evictions

I was 24 when it happened.

I'd had a hard day at work, and my daughter and I were heading to our apartment in the Bronx. I was a single mom, who had fallen behind after my partner moved out. The bills were piling up, and I had just gotten a shut-off notice from Con Ed.

Like many single moms, I was struggling to make ends meet. I had missed the last two months' rent and was desperately looking for a place I could afford. We walked up to our apartment - the elevator was out - and there it was: An eviction notice plastered on my apartment door telling me to pay up or else. I snatched it off the door and ran inside, where I made dinner, helped Samantha with her homework, and put her to bed. I spent the next day at work desperately trying to figure out how to come up with $3,000 to pay the back rent.

Many young women in my neighborhood were struggling. One had left her apartment and applied for shelter. She had nowhere else to turn. Fortunately for me, my mother, who also had been a single mother, was able to lend me the money to pay off the debt, and I found a smaller apartment.

I recently shared this intensely personal story at a breakfast called "I am My Sister, My Sister is Me," attended by a group of prominent black and Latino women leaders and providers on the front lines of fighting poverty, inequality, and homelessness.

It was part of our campaign to educate the community about homeless prevention, especially among women of color living in poverty. The number of homeless black and Hispanic women is staggering: Two-thirds of all women in single adult homeless shelters are black and 26 percent are Latinas.

The City is doing its part, chiefly through its homelessness prevention network, Homebase. Homebase offers New Yorkers who are about to become homeless help in staying out of shelter. Homebase has a range of services, under one roof, including eviction prevention services, assistance obtaining public benefits, employment search and assistance, financial counseling, and short-term financial assistance. Homebase's homelessness prevention experts, at 23 offices across the five boroughs, can help those at risk of eviction, just as I once was, develop a plan for them to overcome their immediate housing crisis and achieve housing stability.

But prevention is the responsibility of all us and it begins in all communities of color - our communities. It also begins with reaching out if you or someone you know is about to get evicted.

I had my mother's help, but others are not so lucky. They need our help. We cannot run from the truth: We are in the deep throes of a war against homelessness - and we must fight it at every turn and with every weapon in our arsenal. We cannot afford to lose. Be part of our fight against homelessness. If you or someone you know needs help to visit Homebase online or call 311.

Together, we can help at-risk New Yorkers in a meaningful way, before they're forced out of their homes and have few choices left besides entering shelter. But they, and we, need to first reach out.

Camille Rivera, Deputy Commissioner, NYC Department of Homeless Services

This essay also appears in Spanish on El Diario.