Community Thought Leader: Julie Van Domelen

To elevate awareness and ignite action around our community’s social, economic, and environmental issues, we periodically feature local thought leaders to enhance the stories and data analyzed in our current TRENDS Report. This month, we’re pleased to feature Julie Van Domelen, Executive Director, Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA): 

Every day at the Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA), we see the squeeze being put on families in our community from the nexus of housing and economic issues that the TRENDS Report lays out. The current reality facing low-income residents of Boulder County is challenging.

First and foremost, housing is increasingly unstable and unattainable for many families. The average EFAA household earns $15K/year, and if renting in the market is paying 72% of their income on housing costs. When unplanned events occur, they have little money left to deal with shocks, or opportunities to either invest in their children or accumulate savings. When shocks occur, these families are at high risk of becoming homeless. We don’t often think about homeless children here in our community, but in 2015 the Boulder Valley School District identified 539 students experiencing episodes of homelessness in the district and over 300 in the City of Boulder. The vast majority of this is driven by economic factors.
On the housing front, Boulder County is losing ground rapidly in the availability of affordable housing, particularly those units available for households with less than 30% Area Median Income. Between 2000 and 2012, our county lost two-thirds of the rental units priced to be affordable for these households – more than half of these were in the city of Boulder. 
Incomes have not been rising to meet this challenge. The largest areas of predicted future job growth over the next 10 years in Boulder County are in food preparation and service and retail sales, both categories with relatively low wages. Income and wages will remain an issue in the struggle towards self-sufficiency for the foreseeable future in our community. 
EFAA, as a community-based safety net and family resource center, has long focused on helping people weather these shocks through short-term rent and utility assistance to keep families housed, food and other financial assistance to stretch tight budgets, and referral services to other community resources. In addition, EFAA is the main provider of housing for families going through homelessness in Boulder County, with apartments for stays between three months and two years, helping families to get back on their feet and programming for children to mitigate the longer-term effects on their futures. More recently, EFAA has introduced programming to help parents get better workforce training and families to access permanently affordable housing. 
But it’s the human stories of our neighbors and friends that show best what is possible. When Colton and Mary came to EFAA as young parents of a one-year-old, they were highly motivated to create a safe and stable life for their child. However, even both working full-time in fast food and cleaning services, their combined salaries were not enough to cover their basic expenses, like rent and gas to get to work. They even worked alternate schedules, so they could be with their daughter and not pay for childcare. EFAA’s strength-based case managers worked with the young family and, ultimately, moved them into transitional housing. Throughout their time in EFAA housing, they were able to consistently save money for their future home, and Mary was able to earn her GED to help her chances at better paying jobs in the future. 
A brighter future is possible!