CEDAR HILLS â€” Patricia Stewart, a single mother of two who also attends Douglas College and works two jobs, was in a bind.
Stewart had received retroactive pay for six months of child tax credit, not knowing that would reduce the amount of welfare she would receive. She only found that out after using the tax credit to purchase a vehicle, which made her realize that she would be short on rent.
"I was frantically calling all these different places looking for help," she recalled. "I didn’t realize the welfare was going to take, like, all the money back that they helped me out with because I wasn’t getting child tax."
After making numerous phone calls, Stewart was referred to the Sources Rent Bank, a program that offers short-term funding to families and individuals at risk of eviction, as well as financial management services.
"It’s always for rental arrears, utility arrears, first month’s rent and damage deposits," said Judy Peterson, team leader of the Sources Rent Bank, of the funding model. "We keep the heat on and we keep the roof over their head."
The rent bank – one of the first in B.C. – is funded by donations and by users repaying their loans, as well as money from the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society, United Way, Vancouver Foundation, Envision Financial and Vancity.
Loans are repaid over a two-year period with a four-per-cent interest rate. However, upon repayment and attending two financial literacy workshops, borrowers will be reimbursed the interest.
"We’ve given out 176 loans, but that represents over 400 people with secure housing," said Peterson, noting that the rent bank this week marked its fourth anniversary; it first opened on March 1, 2010.
But Peterson said that until a few weeks ago, Sources questioned where it would get the funds to help others with their rent this year.
"Last year, there was so much need that we had given out our total loans by about May or June," she said.
On Feb. 22, Sources hosted the White Rock edition of the Coldest Night of the Year, a two-, fiveand 10-kilometre walk to raise money to prevent homelessness. Organizers set a fundraising goal of $25,000, with all money pledged to go to Sources, but they ended up getting a lot more than what they asked for.
In total, the event raised $42,794.
"We were just delighted," said Peterson. "It was absolutely wonderful. We’re very, very appreciative of the support from the community."
For Stewart, that monetary boost has given her family peace of mind since she first started using the rent bank last October.
"They have really helped me out," she said. "The staff were very welcoming – they weren’t judgmental and they didn’t make presumptions. They were just friendly people that were willing and wanting to help."
Peterson remains extremely thankful for the contributions from the community, and is looking forward to helping more low-income families handle their finances.
"Homelessness prevention is financially, emotionally and health-wise less costly than providing people with shelters and things like that," she said. "It’s a better service than providing it after the fact when people have lost their homes.
"We’re just very, very grateful that the community supported us so we can start loaning again."