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Housing ministry helps struggling families

CRESTWOOD, Ky. (BP)–The house is the gift, Eddie and Amy Buck told their five children in the days before Christmas. After nearly two years in a Baptist-sponsored transitional housing program, the first-time homeowners moved into a split-level house last spring — complete with mortgage payments.

The new arrangement did not permit many Christmas gifts, the couple said.

“We told them, ‘It’ll be slim,'” Amy said, “‘but we’ll be in the house.’ That’s the icing on the cake.”

After a series of challenges, the Bucks said Good News Homes, an organization in Oldham and Trimble counties near Louisville, Ky., helped them get on firmer financial footing.

“We didn’t have a disaster. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” Amy said. “We got behind on rent, hoping that we would catch up at tax [refund] time, but tax time didn’t come.”

Injured on the job, Eddie was off work nine months. Workman’s compensation was the family’s only source of income, and he fell behind in child support payments for his eldest daughters. When Eddie returned to work, he tried to make up the deficit but the Internal Revenue Service garnished his tax refund for two consecutive years. Adding to the stress, the rent on their house increased.

Amy remembered telling a friend, “We don’t have money to do anything. We can’t pay our bills. We can’t pay our rent.” The friend, a caseworker for a school-based family assistance program, began making phone calls, searching for a way to help the Bucks.

Good News Homes, founded about 10 years ago, assists families evicted because of financial hardship by providing transitional housing through 10 Baptist-built, three-bedroom apartments in the cities of LaGrange and Bedford.

Director Rose Boyd said most clients are single mothers who are out of work or are employed in low-income jobs. Many have left abusive husbands or boyfriends. Most clients stay in Good News Homes nine to 18 months, Boyd said, and rent is calculated on a family’s ability to pay.

The apartments and other Good News Home services such as budgeting classes provide families an opportunity to “clean up their credit, pay off debts, increase their earnings or get a better job,” Boyd said. “Whatever they need to do to get into permanent housing.”

The Bucks said their situation was less dire than most because Eddie was employed fulltime with a well-paying job. But Good News Homes was a port in their financial storm, giving them time to pay their debts and develop skills to better prepare for the future.

Rick Lucas, director of missions for the Oldham-Trimble Baptist Association, said because families such as the Bucks have an income and ready transportation, they might not qualify for government assistance. He said Good News Homes helps people who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

“Often [society] waits to give assistance to people when they are drowning,” Lucas said. “Why not go back up river and keep them from falling in?”

In the mid-1990s, Lucas and other leaders of the association sought out community leaders — some from government agencies and social service organizations — and asked their impressions about the work of Baptists in the Oldham-Trimble area.

“Many of those leaders did not see the direct impact of the association and its churches on their area of service,” Lucas said.

As the association continued its strategic planning, leaders identified several needs they thought Baptists could help meet.

“One of those was the housing ministry,” Lucas said.

Locals often are surprised to learn there are homeless people in Oldham and Trimble counties, Boyd said. “Generally [rural homeless] are not on the street,” she said. “They move from place to place, staying with relatives, even sleeping in their cars.”

Initially the association established a shelter, Lucas said. A few years later, they broke ground on the first apartment structure.

“There’s no telling how many hundreds of hours our Baptist Builders put in … building those quadraplexes,” he said.

As Boyd developed relationships with other government and social service agencies, Good News Homes began offering assistance to families in crisis, even when the apartments were filled. In 2007, about 40 people were assisted through case management services and referrals to other programs.

Oldham-Trimble Baptists continue to support Good News Homes in a variety of ways, as chaplains and mentors to apartment residents, small-group leaders, class facilitators and sponsors for holidays and clients’ birthdays. Local Baptists also support a food pantry and infant resource program.

With meticulous detail, Eddie Buck talked with creditors, made payments and took other steps to clean up his credit history. He said many people believe that home ownership is out of their reach, but if they investigate lending options and ask for help, it might be possible.

“I think it would make a lot of difference for a lot of people,” he said.

Amy said she is thankful she decided to ask for assistance and that Good News Homes was there.

“I believed that if I asked for help, somebody, somewhere was going to help us.”
Dannah Prather is partnerships editor for the Baptist newsjournal Western Recorder in Kentucky, online at www.westernrecorder.com.

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  • Dannah Prather