I heard about Anna and her family from my colleagues. She had lost employment and was struggling to keep her apartment and car. This was an extremely stressful time and Anna knew that without either income or a car, she and her children would struggle even more and be faced with homelessness.
This was a crisis.
The reality is, Anna and her family are not alone. In Atlantic County it is difficult to find affordable housing and a car is often needed to find and keep employment. Anna began receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) at an amount that had not been increased in New Jersey for over 30 years. Anna didn’t give up—she got organized and kept following through until she was able to get help for her rent with a benefit connected to TANF and then quickly found new employment and kept her car. With case management assistance through the JFS Access Center, Anna was supported both emotionally and with connections to resources through her intense experience of housing instability.
Anna’s journey, and those of so many others, drives the ongoing advocacy work at JFS and it also directly informed the feedback we were able to offer during the last state budget process where TANF grants were increased and $60 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund was won. This fund is dedicated to the creation of affordable homes across New Jersey.
In my role with JFS, I am constantly looking for ways to empower individuals and families while also working to change the systems and policies that create the conditions experienced by the most vulnerable in our community. This mission and social work practice philosophy delivers results. The people we serve know that we seek to understand them and offer best practice interventions alongside advocacy that helps their particular situation and beyond.
JFS participates in and accomplishes this broader systems and policy work through participation in organizational campaigns led by the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, Housing & Community Development Network, Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, Supportive Housing Association, Monarch Housing, the New Jersey Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, and the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (I encourage you to check out the good work being done by these partners). We also seek to create opportunities for those most impacted to tell their own stories and to offer their own policy change solutions.
Anna and her family may face another stressful time in their lives (as so many low wage workers experience episodic crises), but the increase in TANF will be very helpful to them, should they need it. Ultimately, full funding of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund will relieve the stress and uncertainty faced by families, like Anna’s, who have the majority of their monthly income designated for rent, and allow them to THRIVE.
THIS is why we advocate at JFS!
~Laura Rodgers, JFS Chief Program Officer
*Anna’s story is a composite created from several different JFS clients and used to protect the privacy of those we serve.