The Community Housing Assistance Fund (CHAF) is sustained by a broad-based community coalition of realtors,
local banks, civic and business leaders and universities, united by the common goal of ending homelessness
in Cambridge. Started as the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund in 1999 by Cambridge realtors in a public/private partnership with the local banking community, HomeStart, and the Cambridge Multi Service Center for the Homeless, CHAF has recently expanded in scope to better be able to address homelessness as a regional issue. CHAF has served over
2,500 families and individuals since its founding.
As the homeless population in Massachusetts has increased, so have the reasons that people find themselves in this situation. “I’m not the person you expect when you think of homelessness,” said D’Andrea in an interview at HomeStart’s Cambridge office, where she had showed up carrying a heavy bag of textbooks.
Her plan had been to begin her studies a few years earlier, but after turning 18 she aged out of the foster care system that had provided her stability in her childhood. D’Andrea used her own resourcefulness to apply for food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, but still could not find an appropriate studying environment in the emergency shelter she had to rely on night after night.
While at St. Patrick’s shelter in Somerville she met a HomeStart advocate, but shortly after they began working together, D’Andrea became ill and needed emergency gallbladder surgery. “My phone never worked at the hospital,” she explained, making contact with the HomeStart Cambridge manager difficult. “We played phone tag, but he never gave up. He called me nearly every day.”
A month and a half later, D’Andrea received the good news that she qualified for her own apartment, a subsidized unit that she could afford in the long run. She still faced the final hurdle of start-up costs, but thanks to assistance from CHAF, she was able to bridge the gap. “The very first thing I did when I was housed was apply to college…I now have a place to study and do homework.”
Thanks to CHAF and HomeStart, D’Andrea has the foundation of stable housing upon which she can build her future.
Norman knows all too well what it’s like to be on the verge of homelessness. But thanks to the Cambridge Housing Assistance Fund, life has changed dramatically for this Cambridge resident.
Norman shared his inspiring story at a CHAF benefit concert before audience members. “I am here to express my gratitude,” Norman told the crowd. “Changing my residence at this time in my life meant more to me than merely moving from one address to another. It has allowed me to break loose of a situation that I could not find a way to get free of.”
Below is Norman’s full speech to those gathered at the concert:
“I am pleased to have the chance to speak to you this evening. It gives me the opportunity to express my gratitude to each of you for the help I was given from CHAF when I moved four or five months ago. I can only say that what you did at that time in my life was not only important but crucial.
A serious illness in my twenties left me with a disabling physical impairment. It has cost me a great deal of time and critically limited my professional prospects. Though I have made myself into a contributing member of the community as a music teacher my income is small enough that I still need it to be somewhat supplemented each month by Social Security.
Until about half a year ago when I was lucky enough to be ruled eligible for a housing voucher, the chief way my low income affected me was in terms of my living accommodations. To put it bluntly, I was not able to discover a way to live on what I was able to earn that felt to me suitable for a man my age. It was a problem that seemed to have no solution or at least that I could find no way to solve.
I had enough coming in to keep me alive, but it did not seem to allow me to live in a way that was not provisional, shabby and dispiriting. There was the possibility, of course, of sharing a place with strangers as I had done in my twenties, but what felt fine in my twenties felt radically wrong for a man in my forties.
I am not going to waste your time with a physical description of this place I lived in for fifteen years or so. I will only say that it seemed to confront every time I came home with overwhelming evidence of my personal defeat.
I never could find a way to regard it as my home. It was simply a place in which to keep my belongings, to sleep in and in which to eat my meals.I felt both a tremendous yearning to get out of this living situation and a terrible doubt that I would be able to find a practical way to accomplish this.
Being awarded the housing voucher was both a godsend and an enormous spur to action. When I at last found a place that seemed adequate more or less, and that, at any rate, allowed me to escape where I had been struck for so long, I found myself confronted with several new problems that had to be solved if I were actually to make the move. All of these were potential road blocks.
One was the problem that CHAF helped me with. Each month my income was completely eaten up by the bills I had to pay and there was never much if anything left over.
I could not find a way to gather any kind of war chest such as I would have to have should I be asked to provide last month’s rent or security deposit. And the prospect of large-scale borrowing filled me with a horror that I imagine is typical of a disabled person on a very limited budget.
Finding a way to come up with the $1,000 for the security deposit was what your fund helped me to do. I hope I have made clear to you how pivotal this help of yours seemed to me.
And I think you can see that changing my residence at this time in my life meant more to me than merely moving from one address to another. It has allowed me to break loose of a situation that I could not find a way to get free of. So I am here to express my gratitude, to thank you for the good work that you have done for me and I would guess for others in situations like mine.”