Grants give hope to homeless

Families get help covering high cost of security deposits

Brenda Gomez at her new home with her children, Marissa Gomez, 5; Francisco Sanchez, 12; and Mateo Sanchez, 10. Gomez and her kids were able to move into the Orchard Mesa home with help from the Grand Junction Housing Authority covering the security deposit.

Five-year-old Marissa Gomez used to pray each night to God that she and her mother could find a permanent home to live in. The little girl and her mother, along with her four older siblings, slept on friends’ couches or in an occasional motel room and hunted for vacant lots to sleep in their car for the night. Often the family had to split up, living where they could so the older children could attend school.

“Now she thanks (God) every night for finding a house,” said Brenda Gomez, Marissa’s mother. “It’s so sad, it almost makes me cry.”

But there’s little reason for crying anymore after the family landed in a four-bedroom home after 11 months of being homeless. Brenda Gomez’s two older children are now old enough to live away from home, but Marissa, Mateo Sanchez, 10, and Francisco Sanchez, 12, now proudly show off their own rooms.

“It’s nice, huh?” Marissa said, offering a visitor a whirlwind tour but taking a long pause to caress her stuffed animals and eye her carefully placed trinkets.

The family was able to get into the Orchard Mesa home thanks to a variety of grants through the Grand Junction Housing Authority.

Some people have enough money to consistently pay one month’s rent, but they can’t get over the financial hurdle of security deposits and other fees, according to groups that help the homeless find housing.

Although Gomez and her children are covered under a program to cover the cost of a security deposit, another model, called the Guarantee program, helps homeless people bridge the gap of paying for a security deposit.

The Guarantee program offers landlords some assurance they will receive security deposits, program director Lori Rosendahl said.

For example, if a security deposit is $800, the Housing Authority will guarantee a landlord payment of up to $500. A new tenant works on a payment plan to make up the cost of the deposit to the landlord over several months. Tenants agree they can be evicted if they fail to make payments.

“(Tenants) have a vested interest in the place,” Rosendahl said. “They want that money back.”

In general, the cost of rent at some housing units in the Grand Valley is starting to come down as vacancy rates have been high for about the past year, she said. Still, the agency is receiving record numbers of requests for help finding housing, with the current waiting list at 175 applicants, she said. Of that number, 28 percent report being homeless, and many of those requests are stemming from families who never before have been homeless, Rosendahl said.

Applicant numbers usually hover around 125 to 130 a month, she said.

Some landlords say they will accept tenants without the security deposits, but Rosendahl discourages that. It’s not fair for landlords to potentially be stuck with costly repairs and cleaning charges.

“It’s for pretty-low-income people,” said housing advocate Abby Landmeier of the Grand Junction Housing Authority. “They’re trying to scrape up the extra money, then it becomes hard when other needs arise.”


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