Linda Collins was right-sized in April, 2008 after 31 years with the same hospital. She was single, 53 years old, too early to retire, and forced to look for a new career at the start of what is now called ‘The Great Recession.’
A year later, she’s still looking. She doesn’t answer her phone and the card companies are threatening to take her home.
Collins spent the first eight months of her unemployment looking for a job. No one was hiring, except the hospital that let her go. She said she could have put her name on a hire-back list, but the new position would pay half of what she earned before. She couldn’t get past the bitterness and she knew she wouldn’t be able to pay her bills, so she said no thank you and enrolled in a six-month training program for administrative dental assistant.
Collins graduated in June but she still hasn’t been able to find a job. Nor, has she been able to cut expenses to at least equal the $1,368 a month she gets in unemployment benefits. She asked someone to move into her East Toledo home to share expenses, but that still wasn’t enough and she stopped paying some bills.
Finally, when the card companies threatened to take her home, she sought help. She went to see Michelle Gorsuch, a financial stability advocate at the East Toledo Family Center.
Gorsuch is a caseworker for a new United Way program that brings together government, community and educational resources to provide assistance and teach clients how to budget, clean up credit reports, reduce debt and make small home repairs to save money. The goal is financial stability.
Gorsuch helped Collins get heating assistance, free eyeglasses, health insurance through Care-Net and a free cell phone to take calls from prospective employers. She also helped her fill out financial aid forms for the next training program, which may be nursing school.
Brenda Friesel, 52, is another participant in the program. She is a railroad conductor who saw her hours cut this summer and then underwent elbow surgery in August. She receives disability pay of $591 a month, not nearly enough to cover her monthly rent of $480 and van payment of nearly $500. Friesel’s landlord cut her some slack, but the repo man was hours away from towing her van when she went to her 80-year-old father for a $500 loan.
The loan stopped the repo, but it made Friesel realize how deep in debt she had fallen in such a short time. It scared her.
“I’m living in constant fear if I don’t pay them something. If I don’t pay this apartment complex something where am I going to live? When you’re living on $591 a month and you’re trying to keep two big bill collectors happy, what do you do about prescriptions and food?”
Friesel was eating egg sandwiches and little else when she noticed an item in The Press about an assistance fair at Erie Street Market. There, she met Michelle Gorusch. Gorsuch helped her get food stamps, heating help and food assistance.
Friesel also enrolled in classes to teach her budgeting, clean up her credit report and save on her energy bills. She’ll continue going to the classes after she returns to her job. She said the knowledge she gains will help her keep her creditors at bay until she can pay them back.
Linda Collins and Brenda Friesel are the new faces of the poor. They have presented a new problem for social service agencies. Nicole Heitger, family resource director at the East Toledo Family Center, explains: “The biggest difference is we are seeing a lot more situational poverty. We’ve traditionally served generational poverty, but with generational poverty those families have utilized the system their whole lives so they know how to tap into the resources. They know what to do to get food stamps and assistance. Those with situational poverty don’t know where to begin.”
Michelle Gorsuch has a monthly caseload of 35 to 40. Most clients are like Linda Collins and Brenda Friesel, people who have supported themselves all their lives until the economy tanked.
The program also helps participants with job search assistance, filling out resumes, foreclosure prevention and even how to do small home repairs to save money.