CATCH IS HELPING FAMILIES STAND ON THEIR OWN AGAIN
Homeless. The word often brings up powerful emotions like pity or fear, loss of dignity or denial, anger or disdain. Some may even assume that people who are homeless are so by choice—that they are “working the system”. Whatever images it evokes, the problem is real. Millions of Americans have lost their homes, and communities are working hard to find ways to help. In Boise, CATCH’s (Charitable Assistance to Communities Homeless) award winning program is an excellent example of community pulling together to help families in need.
Life sometimes presents difficult situations that must be endured. Whether or not a person (or a family) defines themselves by such circumstances is truly the key to moving forward in life. The Zinovyevs are such a family.
When you first meet Yuriy and Olga Zinovyev you are struck by their warmth and vibrancy. They are hard working and caring. Raising five children is demanding yet they are dedicated and eager to see their children succeed in life. It’s hard to imagine that just six months before, the family had been forced to move from their home into a shelter.
When the Zinovyevs emigrated from Russia in 2000, they left behind friends and family. America held hope for a new life and strong future for themselves and their three small children, Yevgeniy, Maksim and Alina. They arrived in California with no home to speak of and little English to communicate with. But with the help of family already in Idaho, they were soon able to move to Boise.
“A week after I got here, I had a job.” Yuriy said, smiling broadly. His heavily accented voice holds humor, not bitterness. “I stocked shelves, soon my boss learned I was a trained mechanic and welder and I started doing other jobs for him.” Yuriy’s education, skill, years of experience and desire work soon started to provide a solid income for the family. Olga had also quickly picked up part time work cleaning airplanes and later working for the local newspaper. Within a year the family was able to buy their own home. Things were moving along well enough that in 2003, Yuriy left his full time job to open a stucco and siding business with a partner.
“Everybody in Russia believes money falls from the sky or grows on trees in America–really, they do…but you must work. And I have a big family to support,” Yuriy laughed. The business was growing and so was the Zinovyev family. In 2005, Olga gave birth to Nikita and two years later Milana was born. With small children to care for, Olga stopped working outside the home and Yuriy opened a tiling business to bring in extra income.
“He worked 14 hour days, 6 days a week,” Maksim, now 16, translated for Olga. Although the couple speaks English fairly well one of the elder children translates if necessary.
So what went wrong? Why did this hard working family end up losing their home? Idaho’s housing and construction industry plummeted along with the national economy. Like so many others the Zinovyevs were hit hard.
“In 2008 things started going downhill, there was no work,” Yuriy said of the siding business. His partner had mismanaged money and the business was forced to close. Not long after, Yuriy also had to close his tiling business and he started looking for other employment. Bills began to pile up and the family found themselves in a financial crisis.
In June of 2010 the bank foreclosed on the Zinovyev’s home.
“I had decorated it so beautifully,” Olga recalled fondly. Plants, soft curtains and vases, all traces of her elegant touch offer comfort in their current home. They are but an echo of what was.
Faced with no source of income and nowhere to go, the Zinovyevs turned to Booth Family Care Center (Booth Home) in Boise. Fortunately, space was available and the family of seven packed themselves into two small rooms where they would stay for more than 3 months.
“During the day we [the children] would go to our grandparent’s while my mom and dad looked for work.” Maksim said.
“We had to be out by 8 every morning and then back in early every evening. It was good for the kids because it gave them a solid bed time.” Maksim translated for Olga. He raised a quizzical eyebrow at his mother then nodded in agreement, like his father there is a lot of humor, not frustration or anger in his mannerisms.
Through the Booth House Shelter the Zinovyevs were able to apply to CATCH(Charitable Assistance To Community’s Homeless). In June of 2010, Yuriy met with Beck Fenton, CATCH’s Family Development Specialist.
“We get them out of the shelter into affordable housing and set them up with the basics,” Ms. Fenton said, “it’s up to them to take care of their electrical and other expenses while looking for jobs. We also help them set up savings accounts with participating banks that will match their savings for a time. I had hoped to get them into HUD housing, but there was just one too many members of the family.” Ms. Fenton went to work finding a home that would meet the family’s needs.
CATCH’s award winning program is a collaborative effort between the City of Boise, community sponsors (like United Way), local businesses and local communities of faith. It takes families with children out of homeless shelters and places them in temporary housing. For 6 months CATCH pays the family’s rent while providing social services and case management to help them get back on their feet again.
By August, the Zinovyevs were able to move into a home sponsored by Immanuel Lutheran Church. Olga had found work at a daycare and Yuriy faithfully spent time at the CATCH office seeking and applying for available work. Through Mountain West Bank and the CATCH Match program they were able to set up a savings account and see their savings grow. Step by step, things start turning around.
“We saved every receipt and only spent money on necessities. Yuriy said. “And we listened to what Beck (Ms. Fenton) said.”
“We bought only what we needed in food,” Maksim translated for Olga then added, “yeah, there’s no junk food in the house.”
Yuriy now works fulltime at a meat packing plant. He admits it is not work that he loves, but it provides for his family. He hopes he will soon be able to find work that utilizes his skills.
In December, the Zinovyev family graduated from CATCH. They are paying their own rent and handling their own expenses. They have moved to a larger apartment close to other Russian families and they continue to save money.
When asked how she felt about future and the ‘American Dream’, Olga looked puzzled, and turned to her son. After a brief exchange Maksim said, “I had to explain to her what the American Dream is. She just wants everything [her life] in her hands, the ability to take care of her own.” There is no sense of pity or shame rather there is a deep sense of gratitude, appreciation and hope. They simply want the opportunity to have decent work and healthy lives and CATCH has helped make that possible for them again.
“CATCH was a big help, thank you so much,” Yuriy said, engulfing Ms. Fenton in a hug. Although the Zinovyevs have graduated they will always be considered part of the CATCH family.