Can a broken headlight lead to homelessness?

Protection

Amber was visibly embarrassed and near tears when she asked a Haven Community Services case manager for help paying rent. “I’m already behind on rent. If I don’t pay this month, they’re going to evict me,” she explained. “I have nowhere else to go.” Amber had been to the Haven once or twice before, each time for a week’s worth of groceries, but this was the first time she felt at risk of being homeless. “I can’t pay my rent because I have to pay some fines. If I don’t pay my fines, I’ll lose my license and then I’ll lose my job.”

It began nine weeks earlier when Amber was pulled over on her way home from work for a broken passenger’s side headlight. She had been pulled over once before, and given a warning, but could not afford to have the headlamp replaced. The driver’s side shone brightly, and they both worked on high-beams – “if only I had my brights on,” she thought, “maybe I wouldn’t have been pulled over again!” The officer issued Amber a ticket and a fine.

Amber ignored the fine. If she had money to spare, she wouldn’t have a broken headlamp!

Amber continued to drive after dark with her high-beams on. She felt bad when others flashed their lights but she couldn’t let herself get pulled over again. Then she broke down and took her brights off. Sure enough, she saw blue lights. Murphy’s law. The officer cited her again with another fine she wouldn’t be able to pay.

Then she received a letter from the DMV. Because her original fine had not been paid within the time allotted, she now owed even more in fines and fees. If she failed to pay, her driver’s license would be revoked, the letter said. She sat down and cried. As a healthcare worker if she lost her license, she would also lose her professional license, and her employer would have no choice but to let her go.

The case manager listened carefully then said, “Let’s break this into manageable parts and see what we can do.” After several phone calls and some negotiation, two other organizations helped to assist with the back rent. The Haven designed a loan to be paid back from Amber’s tax return to cover the current rent. Then the case manager helped Amber to talk with the Court to arrange a payment plan that she could afford. If she makes her payments on time she will not lose her license. Finally, they walked out into the parking lot together and looked at the light. The case manager showed Amber what to get for a replacement, and she was given the funds for the bulb. She went to the auto parts store, came back with it, and the case manager helped her to replace it. Amber now has a new skill!

Amber will come back to the Haven the next month for a class on financial literacy. “I know I need to know how to budget better, and I want to be financially stable,” she said, “I was so afraid to losing my job; of losing everything.”

“I’m so grateful for the Haven’s help.”

*Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

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