Good afternoon Chair Darneille and members of the committee.

I was referred to the Housing & Essential Needs program in September of 2016 when my Mental Health diagnosis deemed me unable to maintain gainful employment.

Prior to accessing this support I was couch surfing and living on the streets.

During this time, I was proactive about seeking and researching options for housing; however, every income based property in my home area held an average wait list of one to three years. I felt hopeless and alone. My mental health declined significantly. I was not able to maintain important appointments, and I struggled to keep my prescribed medication in a safe place. My life was in a state of chaos.

After being referred to Housing & Essential Needs, I found a room to rent within 48 hours of my initial intake appointment with my case manager.

The HEN program helped me qualify for an apartment despite credit history challenges and a scattered rental history. A few days after moving in, I achieved a long-time goal of adopting a service animal. Having Lucy at my side has had an enormous impact on my mental health stability.

Also since moving into my own apartment I have been able to volunteer at a shelter for homeless families, working as support staff in their central kitchen. I recently applied for a regular full time position at that same shelter.

Getting off the streets and into my own space greatly improved my depression, anxiety, and motivation in engaging in healthy activities that have improved my quality of life and helped me to establish independence. Having a safe place where I do not have to be concerned about my clothes and other personal property from being stolen helped me to want to live again. I began to regularly make my appointments and adhere to my treatment plan.

However, the Department of Health and Humans Services recently gave me 24 days’ notice that I would no longer be eligible for HEN benefits. Instead, I was approved to receive $197.00 cash benefits under the Aged, Blind & Disabled program.

I appealed this ruling, but sadly, the Administrative Law Judge’s Initial Order was not in my favor. My HEN benefits will terminate the end of this month.

I will now face the penalties of breaking my lease agreement with my current landlord and I need to attempt to locate housing with ABD’s budget of $197.00.

I am worried that losing my housing stability will cause a critical backslide in my mental health and the progress I have made over the last several months, not to mention returning me to the streets or to couch surfing.

Please pass Senate Bill 6502 so that people like me will not lose their housing support at critical moments when they are addressing their disabilities and be forced to return to return to square one and homelessness after making so much progress.

Thank you.