Written by Firesteel Volunteer Jenn Martinis and Firesteel Advocacy Manager Denise Miller
Alena Rogers, a formerly homeless single mother, speaks with her landlord, Raj Kumar, about the impact he had on her life when he took a chance by renting to her, enabling her family to secure a stable home. We invite you to listen to Alena’s story, which was recorded as part of the StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” project and airs during KUOW’s program The Record today. You can also listen online.
In September 2013, Alena was homeless with her two boys. She had substance abuse in her past, as well as a criminal record. Even after going back to school, and attending drug and alcohol treatment, finding permanent housing was incredibly difficult. During her search, she found out about the Landlord Liaison Project (LLP), which provides safeguards for landlords who rent to people with rental barriers such as a past eviction, criminal background, or bad credit.
Living in a friend’s garage with her sons, frustrated with applying for homes and being rejected, Alena was on the brink dropping out of college and getting a second job. She thought that saving up and buying a home might be her only chance to give her family a stable place to live.
In one last attempt to find a rental, Alena emailed a landlord who’d posted an apartment on Craigslist. She asked him to consider her despite her history, and introduced him to the LLP.
Fortunately for Alena, Raj was open to learning more about the LLP and was willing to look beyond standard screening criteria. He took a chance on her. Moving into Raj’s property was a turning point for Alena’s family.
“You allowing us to have a stable home changed everything. Now I’m in graduate school and my son’s going to go to college. We’re just not stressed anymore and we’re happy, and that’s just been a huge thing for us,” Alena tells Raj in their StoryCorps conversation.
Raj experienced homelessness himself when he was a child, and felt drawn to helping families who face barriers to having a safe home. He hasn’t regretted his choice. Since connecting with Alena, Raj has rented to three other families through the LLP.
“Every time I have a unit open, I talk with [the LLP] first and see if there’s a family that is looking for accommodation,” Raj said in a later interview recorded by KUOW. “It can help them in a big way.”
Raj’s motivations are similar to those of many of LLP landlords: They want to do the right thing by giving homeless people with barriers an opportunity for success.
The Landlord Liaison Project
Since the LLP started in 2009, it has helped more than 2,400 households secure permanent homes.
The goal of LLP is to offer homeless individuals and families like Alena’s, who were previously denied by landlords, help with accessing permanent housing, signing leases and moving into otherwise-vacant units. Participating landlords like Raj agree to apply alternative screening criteria to applicants, and in exchange receive rapid response to concerns, access to a 24-hour call-in line and risk reduction funds. Tenants are connected to ongoing case management from human service agencies for one year to ensure stability.
Mona Tschurwald, who oversees the LLP as the director of homeless initiatives for YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish, encourages landlords to join the program.
“What LLP needs are more landlords willing to give us an affordable unit to give a homeless person or family an opportunity to regain their sense of dignity and succeed. We are all better off in our community when everyone is housed, employed, educated and feeling part of the community in which they live,” Mona says.
Have the “Finding Our Way” stories inspired you to help families who are experiencing homelessness?
- Start by sharing these stories with your friends, family, and policymakers.
- If you are a landlord, consider participating in the Landlord Liaison Project.
- Check out a list of 10 things you can do to help, compiled by Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness.
HEAR MORE STORIES
- Listen to more “Finding Our Way” stories produced by StoryCorps on KUOW’s website.
- Find even more “Finding Our Way” stories, produced by Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness and Firesteel, here on the Firesteel website.
- Stream other StoryCorps conversations on the StoryCorps website, or subscribe to the StoryCorps podcast.