Program helps the financially overwhelmed

The effects of a fledgling marriage and piling debt took a physical toll on George Richardson and nearly left him homeless.

The 52-year-old Augusta man and his new wife accrued debts just a few months into their marriage. When the couple split, he said, he was left with the credit card bills and a late notice. Before his marriage, Richardson said, he never had a credit card.

"I just did not have the income to satisfy the bills," said Richardson, who works as a fabrics inspector for Carole Fabrics. "I was really overwhelmed, and I didn't know what to do because I had never had these problems before."

The Navy veteran was referred to the CSRA's Economic Opportunity Authority's Homeless Prevention/Rapid Re-Housing Renters Assistance Program, which granted him with the rental and utilities assistance he needed to stay in his home.

The stimulus-funded program has thus far provided more than $50,000 in rental and utilities assistance to residents since it began in October, program coordinator Shaundra Dority said.

"For the people who have received an eviction or a late notice, we try to get them to a point where they can be self-sustained," Dority said. "It's not just a handout. We're trying to keep them in their homes."

A case manager works with clients on creating a budget, finding employment and connecting with other community resources, Dority said. The agency can provide financial assistance for up to 18 months, she said.

Devan Cupid, a case manager with the program, said she works with at least 15 families each week. Most of her clients have lost jobs.

"It's been said that the situation has improved, but that's not evident yet for a lot of my clients," she said. "More people are finding employment, but there is still a need for these services."

Though Richardson kept his job, he had to cut back his hours because of health problems ignited by stress over his finances.

"My blood pressure went up, and my doctor said I couldn't work my job like I was doing," he said.

Richardson said the renters assistance program helped him pay his rent and utilities from February until this month. The program also helped him learn to balance his budget so he could make timely credit payments, he said.

Richardson and his wife reconciled in May and celebrated their first anniversary earlier this month. He said the renters assistance program and reuniting with his wife got him back on track.

"They genuinely were concerned about my financial situation," Richardson said. "They taught me how to budget, and now my wife and I are sharing the bills and doing more cost-effective things. ... I'm finally getting ahead."

Need help?

Renters in danger of being evicted from their homes as a result of loss of employment or other qualifying, documentable crises can apply for assistance. Eligible renters will receive case management services, budget assistance and supplemental financial assistance for rent and/or utilities. Renters with an annual income of $19,500 for a household of one up to $36,700 for a household of eight are eligible for the assistance. For more information, call Devan Cupid at (706) 724-8588.

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