Throughout the United Way of Story County (UWSC) LIVE UNITED campaign, this column is highlighting different programs in the community impact areas of education, income and health to give readers an idea of the work being done locally.

In the area of income, UWSC invests in emergency shelter for adults through the Emergency Residence Project (ERP) and for youth through Youth and Shelter Services. ERP, a UWSC partner agency for 28 years, provides short-term emergency shelter, longer-stay transitional housing and homeless prevention assistance to help people avoid evictions or utility shut-offs. ERP is currently providing shelter to more than 50 people every night.

ERP programs help families remain in their housing so disruptions in life and education can be minimized. The transitional housing program gives families several months of housing to stabilize their lives and get back into housing they can afford. For Jessica, her husband and five kids (ranging in age from five to 11 years old), the shelter and transitional housing at ERP have been a blessing.

Jessica is from Nevada, and after moving to southern Iowa for 17 years, came back to Nevada. Her husband was working, but got injured and needed to have surgery.

"I wasn’t working, so we were out of luck," said Jessica. They were living in a duplex and couldn’t afford the $1,000/month rent. A friend referred them to ERP, where they lived for a year. Jessica’s family stayed as part of ERP’s shelter program for over a week, and then moved into transitional housing.

"ERP is very family-oriented and everyone is so helpful," says Jessica. "The main advantage is that you pay 30 percent of your wages. When we first moved in, we weren’t working, so we didn’t have to pay anything. That helped us save money. We also didn’t have a vehicle at first. Now, we have one we bought with savings, which has been a tremendous help."

Jessica said the whole time they were at ERP, everyone was great. If there was ever a time they didn’t have anything, the staff and volunteers were always there to help.

"Toilet paper, toothpaste, clothes for kids, whatever … we didn’t have to ask twice, and no questions were asked," Jessica said.

Jessica and her family were approved for permanent, affordable housing through the Central Iowa Regional Housing Authority (CIRHA) on Nov. 1 this year. If the shelter (funded in part by UWSC) wasn’t available, Jessica and her family wouldn’t have gotten on the road to self-sufficiency. Jessica credits ERP for helping them get back on their feet. She said, "I don’t know what we would have done without ERP."

ERP has housed the homeless in Ames and Story County since 1985. Vic Moss, the shelter’s director, says he would love to be put out of a job, but unfortunately, the need still exists. Moss credits United Way of Story County with being able to serve as many people as they do.

"We would have to make a drastic cutback in our services if we did not have United Way’s help."

(Sara Wilson is marketing director of United Way of Story County, a strategic leader in building countywide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support and evaluate effective human services, especially in the areas of education, income and health, for our diverse community.)