WENY News - Special Report: Working Towards Home

Special Report: Working Towards Home

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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WENY) -- "I was really successful my entire life. I worked at Cornell University for twelve years [and] that's where I got my degree. I got my hair license. I did really good." 

Yet every day, April Mace wakes up at a Catholic Charities shelter in Elmira.

It's a routine she's gotten used to over the past few months. And despite having a college degree and full-time job, it's a routine that stems back to November of 2015.

"I was in a lot of abusive relationships at the time," says Mace. "I was very unhappy. I tried drugs for the first time."

April soon found herself behind bars. 

After a one year jail sentence, the abuse at home continued--until she decided to leave.

And with nowhere to go, she found herself on the streets. 

"I was just really scary," says Mace. "The unknown was scary."

April is just one of the growing number of people and families who are becoming homeless. Experts say the perception of homelessness is changing.

"I'd say about a third of the people who walk in our door homeless already have jobs and are already working," says Richard Bennett, Director of the Ithaca Rescue Mission. "It's just not enough. Many of the folks while they're here are working multiple jobs and are simply trying to generate enough revenue for support and to move forward."

And for some, that can take months.

While April works full time and is trying to save up money while she gets back on her feet in the shelter, there are guidelines in place people staying there have to follow. That includes leaving each day by 8 am, even if work doesn't start for another few hours.

"I don't have anywhere to go where I'm comfortable," says Mace. "I was sick a few days ago and I had to go find somewhere to rest. My clothes are in my car, but I work because I'm trying to get enough money to get an apartment. So it's so hard to balance it all out."

On a single night in January 2017, there were 226 people living without a home in Elmira alone. That's according to a report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That same report also found family homelessness was up throughout the Southern Tier.

"We continue to see a lot of families who are homeless," says Winters. "A lot of people [are] doubling down [and] trying to make ends meet."

That's why April has turned to Catholic Charities, which aside from providing a place to stay, has also given her the resources needed to make a change.

"They make you feel very comfortable, where it's going to be okay. Like, 'I'll be alright, no matter what," says Mace.

"Our job is to keep them safe and off the street and our other job is about case management," says Bennett. "Connecting them to support and resources--treatment resources, medical resources, other financial and employment support in our community, challenge resources, DSS--really try and help build a foundation underneath them."

April says she continues to work, and has even begun touring apartments in hopes of finding a good fit.

But for the time being, she's one of many stuck in what she says feels like limbo.

"I gave a shelter tour not too long ago and there was a woman standing outside," says Winters. "She said she was waiting for her daughter. Just then a school bus pulled up and dropped off her daughter for the day. It just shook me a little bit because without a home address, that child couldn't ride the bus. So this is her home."

Local agencies point to a lack of understanding. Also very few affordable housing options. For some, they say there's just simply not enough accessible resources or exposure of where to turn.

"I think we've hit a tipping point about the working poor not being able to survive in this community," says Bennett.

And despite each of those obstacles, April says in a sense, she's one of the lucky ones. 

"I'm happier now than I ever was before in my life and that's why people think I'm kind of crazy," says Mace. "But I am. I really am, because I'm who I am. I'm me. I'm working for what I need. I've had a really rough run of it since I was born and right now, I don't have that." 

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