By Michael Hill
Retired Air Force Officer Marcenia Cofield opens the door to her new home — a single family house with three bedrooms in Paterson.
“I love it. It’s a place for me to hang my keys and say, ‘Honey I’m home!'” she said.
Twenty years of personal belongings delivered this week and piled in the living room for Cofield and her 25-year-old daughter and five grandchildren.
They all became homeless the week before Christmas. Cofield blames HUD for the wrong financial information put on her voucher renewal. It led to her rent almost tripling and her family ultimately having to live in a hotel.
“It was humiliating,” she said.
Cofield — a nursing assistant with mental health issues — says she sought the help of several agencies but they were judgmental and offered no help.
“I needed to hear that they were passionate and compassionate,” she said.
But, one day she picked up a Community Hope flier and decided to call and six weeks later — after one landlord backed out of a deal because he would have to report the income and another family had to vacate the house — the Cofields have a place to call home.
“I never got the judgement call from them. It was just what can we do to help you? What is it that you need? And let’s sit down and see what we can do with a plan,” Cofield said. “The housing officer, she worked with me on sending me emails. The first day I met her, within 10 minutes she was sending me emails, ‘look at these properties.’ I never got that from any other resource used in the state.”
Community Hope says its approach to helping homeless veterans and their families when they call, is to treat those calls with utmost urgency as if they’re calling 9-1-1.
“Yes. We have to. It’s rapid rehousing. It’s the only way to really make an impact and a difference to these families who are struggling in this frigid cold weather,” said Community Hope Vice President of Development Julia Bey Ahmet.
Ahmet says some veterans and their families are living in cars as shelter from the cold. She says they’re among 800-plus veterans and veteran families Community Hope has housed since October.
Count the Cofields among them.
“What I really wanted from the very beginning is coming true. I wanted a single family home with a backyard for the kids. I love to garden and be outside. That’s very therapeutic for me because sometimes I’m not able to afford my medications from the VA so to be able to go and put my hands in that soil and to smell it, it just does something for me since I grew up on a farm,” Cofield said.
Cofield now plans to start a non-profit to support and advocate for fellow female vets based on her recent hardship and lessons learned.