A Cincinnati couple desperate to avoid homelessness found a way out, and they want others to know how they did it.
Scott and Christy Bien lost their jobs in pandemic layoffs and spent the next year going where short-term work took them — restaurants and warehouses, mostly, walking to and from work. Scott renovated affordable homes for people struggling with homelessness, conscious of how close he and his wife were to losing everything, too. They didn't have a car. If they didn't have a place to live, they weren't sure about the next step.
“I said, ‘Christy, it's like karma,'" Scott said. "'If I keep doing right, something's got to come our right at the end of all this.'"
But he was worried. There were times when he thought about giving up.
Financial researchers say this is a pattern ensnaring many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of whom never struggled with money before. People lose their jobs, struggle to get unemployment benefits and have to choose which bills to pay on time.
Making some situations even more desperate, Hamilton County is one of eight Ohio counties that resumed eviction court cases despite pandemic restrictions.
“What we’re seeing is a clear prioritization of mortgage payments, then auto payments and then credit cards,” said Matt Komos, TransUnion's vice president of U.S. research and consulting. “Consumers with a single credit card actually prioritized those before their auto loan, So, you know, and that makes a lot of sense. They're protecting available liquidity. You know, you can’t use your auto to make a purchase online, but that credit card, you can.”
The Biens found help through Community Action Agency, a group helping Hamilton County divvy out $60 million in federal pandemic aid to pay up to 12 months past due rent and three months future rent.
“They’re a Godsend,” said Christy Bien.
The group got new furniture for them and helped them put food in the pantry as well as gas in the car they were finally able to afford.
The couple now has steady work. They say they are looking forward to focusing on the little things.
“We’re going to buy one of them entertainment stands and TV for the living room, get her some new pots and pans, microwave,” said Scott.
Here’s how you can get financial help like this in Hamilton County:
- Call Community Action Agency at 513-421-0602.
- Call United Way at 211 and ask for someone to direct you to the right division.
- Call Housing Opportunities Made Equal at 513-721-4663.
- Municipal Court has a help line: 513- 946-5650.