Phyllis in Iowa, thriving in a home of her own

Phyllis looked around her small Cedar Rapids apartment and beamed.

“I’ve got a million things to be thankful for,” she said. Her spirit is remarkably upbeat given all that she has faced. By her own admission, for years she struggled to find consistent housing and battled with substance use disorder. But her life had taken a turn for the better, and she was living on her own in a comfortable apartment.

Collecting cans was a way to make a little extra money.

“It was like 35 below windshield factor, and I passed out while outside. And this is what happened.” She holds her hands gingerly, the pain evident. She lost nine of her fingers to frostbite that night, and was placed in a rehabilitation facility in Iowa City. It was supposed to be for a short time, but almost a year later she was still there. She lost her apartment and all of her belongings. Homeless shelters didn’t feel equipped to care for her disability. She couldn’t save enough money for a security deposit on a new apartment because the facility cost nearly all of her disability check.

Phyllis’ case manager asked Latoya Lewis, a UnitedHealthcare Housing Navigator if she could help.

“She didn’t fit the definition of homelessness because she had been in a facility,” said Lewis. Recent changes in government regulations meant Phyllis didn’t qualify for some homeless programs. She also had a history of evictions and a criminal record.

“If we want our members to be healthy and whole and if we’re going to look at person-centered care, then we need to look at housing.”

But Lewis was committed to finding a place for Phyllis to call home.

Lewis identified a subsidized housing option in Cedar Rapids and helped Phyllis fill out applications. Lewis also engaged local churches to provide her apartment with furniture and food to get her started. The church also paid her security deposit and first month’s rent. Pastor Ritva Williams is with St Stephen’s Lutheran Church. “In Phyllis’ case, where she is pretty seriously disabled, how could she possibly manage without the community there to support her?”

Phyllis says the church was wonderful and calls Lewis a godsend.

Despite the struggles ahead, Phyllis is thankful to be home. “It feels wonderful to have my own apartment. I’m truly able to be me.”

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