Walla Walla social service agency needs helping hand of its own

Helpline, which provides housing assistance to local families, is seeking help after funds ran out.

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WALLA WALLA -- The nonprofit agency that helps hundreds of people a month could use some help itself.

Helpline acts as a screening agency for a number of social services and assists clients with food, rental, transportation and utility assistance. However, funding to help families pay for housing has been exhausted early this year and more will not be available until July 1, said executive director Dan Willms.

The organization is appealing to the community for cash donations.

On average, Helpline assists 18-20 families per month with up to 30 percent of their monthly rent to prevent eviction or to move them from homelessness to permanent shelter. That number is up from early 2010, he said.

The financial difficulties leading to needing such help can stem from a number of variables, Willms pointed out. "It's not always a job loss. It may be an emergency situation, like fixing a vehicle or one of the kids needs something. They skim off a couple hundred from the rent money."

In many situations, monthly income is barely covering the basics to begin with, he said.

Preventing an eviction is a cost-effective move for everyone, Willms explained. "If people lose their home, then we have bigger issues. Suddenly we're trying to shelter them, then get them into a new place which means deposits and other costs."

Being homeless is an expensive way to live, he added.

However, Helpline finds itself in an unusual situation this year. Federal emergency housing funds are up in the air and no one knows how those will land. In addition, the local need for housing help "has really been escalating," Willms said. "So we have been covering that but we've never not gotten (federal) money."

Helpline can assist a family once annually and single-person households can also be helped one time a year at the rate of 25 percent of their monthly rent. The average cost to the agency per family is $200.

His experience is that few, if any, families try to "use the system," the director said. "They have to have an eviction notice to come and see us."

The organization is seeking the public's help in filling in the gap with cash donations, Willms said Tuesday.

The current shortfall is more than $7,000.

For more information on how to help, call 529-3377 or email dan@helplineww.org.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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