Cherokee Nation Human Services helps families avoid eviction

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
09/05/2019 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Human Services clerk Michelle Keys, right, assists a client with forms for family assistance. Human Services runs the tribe’s emergency housing assistance. ARCHIVE
TAHLEQUAH – Many people live paycheck to paycheck and as a consequence, many households are only an emergency or two from missing house payments or getting crossways with landlords. Some families may even find themselves homeless.

Thanks to assistance from the Cherokee Nation’s Human Services, many CN citizens can get some breathing space on their housing and utility debts.

Human Services can help those living in residential and transitional housing through its Family Assistance program. Many applicants looking for help are in a housing program with the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation, or renting.

Human Services’ emergency housing assistance is given once – and in rare cases twice – and is not granted on a monthly basis. The aim of Family Assistance is to prevent homelessness rather than assist the homeless, but CN citizens who are homeless can visit Human Services for information and initial guidance.

“When someone comes in and states that they are homeless, the advocate will assess the situation to see what is going on,” Family Assistance Manager Janet Ward said. “One of the first things we are going to do is to see if they have family and friends that they can stay with. If they don’t, then we will try to locate shelter placement for them. They will also be referred to Housing Authority.”

It may be necessary for a family to move to housing that is more within its budget. The Human Services assistance can stave off eviction or utility service disruption, but recipients must show that they can maintain payments themselves.

“We recommend that families don’t wait till last minute to come in for assistance,” Ward said. “The worker will need to take their (family’s) application and make sure they have all the documents to complete the application. If they don’t, it will delay being able to process the application if they are eligible.”

Ward encouraged applicants to call Human Services if they are unsure of what documents to bring. “All documents must be provided within five days of the applicant making the application, or the application will be denied,” she said.

She said it’s imperative that those requesting assistance have an idea of what they can afford to pay for housing and utilities. Human Services programs will request income information for the previous 12 months. Some applicants are snared, or at least frustrated, by some common pitfalls.

“Not having all their documents delays the application from being completed,” Ward said. “The worker cannot process the application without all required documents. When someone comes in for assistance, they need to have a plan. What will be different next month? Our programs are to prevent homelessness, but at the same time we have to show that they can maintain the housing or utility payments after the assistance.”

Applications also should be timely. Some seek help after holding out hope for too long, or perhaps they have just procrastinated.

“Waiting till the day of the cut-off or day of eviction sometimes causes problems,” Ward said. “There are utility companies that will not work with Cherokee Nation if you wait till the day of cut-off, or the company may require cash to get utilities turned back on or to prevent them from being disconnected.”

Those seeking help must also meet specific guidelines.

“You must live within Cherokee Nation jurisdiction, have a tribal membership card from a federally recognized tribe and meet the income guidelines,” Ward said. “If you do not meet the eligibility guidelines, the applicant will be referred to other agencies in their area.”

For information, call 918-453-5422.
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