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Impact grant helps growing family secure quality housing

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Sketch of mother holding infant

Justine woke suddenly to the sound of her son screaming. She tore from her bed to the bedroom next to hers, where her two young boys slept. When she got there, her youngest was in tears, shaking his arms as if they were wet and he was trying to shake them dry.

He had woken, Justine learned, to a rat crawling on top of him.

For Justine, this was the final straw. She was already fed up with how unresponsive her landlord had been about the doors and windows that needed screens so cool air could blow through the non-air conditioned apartment; the walls with holes that needed repaired; the roof that leaked every time it rained; the exterior doors that did not close correctly, leaving her young family vulnerable; the improperly sealed chimney flue that poured smoke into the house each time her family wanted to warm themselves in front of a fire; and the foundation issues that caused cracks in the walls to grow ever larger. Having her son wake to a rodent on top of him gave Justine a renewed energy to fight for a clean and safe home for her young family.

After all, that family was expanding. Justine was pregnant, in her third trimester, and she told herself she wouldn't raise another child in the conditions they had grown accustomed to. Even as someone with limited means and a subsidized housing voucher, she felt her family deserved better.

That's when Justine turned to Community Legal Aid. She was paired with attorney Julie Smith, who helped Justine every step of the way. Julie worked with Justine's landlord to negotiate a move-out date, which broke her lease. Julie also utilized Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority to find another property for Justine to move into. In addition, Julie negotiated a reduced past-due water bill for Justine and the transfer of her housing voucher to ensure she could find a place that would accept her subsidy.

Meanwhile, Justine found the perfect place to set down roots and was preparing to move. But, it turned out that the landlord had several repairs to make to the home, which would take months before it was safe for Justine's family to move into.

Unfortunately, that day didn't come quickly enough. At eight-months pregnant, Justine found her family in a homeless shelter for women and children. And then, the unthinkable happened - she went into labor. Justine gave birth to a healthy baby girl just three days after moving into the homeless shelter.

Finally, a couple of months later, Justine was able to move into her newly repaired home with her recently expanded family. A clean, rodent-free home with working doors and a roof. With her past-due water bill reduced, she was ready to start fresh with her children.

Justine would have had difficulty affording an attorney on her own. Through grant support from the Women's Endowment Fund, Community Legal Aid was able to work with Justine and her family as part of its Infant Mortality Prevention Project. This program helps Community Legal Aid's advocates assist expectant mothers, like Justine, facing issues that put their health and the well-being of their baby in jeopardy. Through legal representation, education, and advocacy, Community Legal Aid's attorneys resolve issues like safe and affordable housing, domestic violence, debt, and more.

*Names and identifying information in this article have been altered in order to protect Community Legal Aid's client confidentiality.

In 2017, industry experts met to discuss the infant mortality crisis in Summit County during the Women's Endowment Fund's biannual forum. Outcomes from this forum were used to direct impact grantmaking for the fund's 2018 grant cycle. In 2018, the fund awarded $50,000 in impact grants to organizations like Community Legal Aid to help reduce infant mortality rates in Summit County.

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