Southern’s School of Social Work is partnering with the Chattanooga Eviction Prevention Pilot Project to provide free legal assistance to those in the local community who are facing eviction. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for people to afford housing costs due to loss of work or unexpected expenses. This advisory service, funded by the 2020 CARES Act, helps individuals and families obtain financial resources to stay in their current residences or find new places to live if they have already been evicted.
In May 2020, the program reached out to the University’s School of Social Work for help with social services and case management. Graduate students Elizabeth Riley and Susan Yates began serving as case manager interns for the project.
“One of the first clients I worked with had a daughter on hospice with a prognosis of six months,” Riley said. “When they were evicted, they had to live at an extended-stay hotel. Walking through that process with her and seeing the struggles that this mother faced was an eye-opening and heartbreaking experience. These cases serve as a continual reminder of how far we have to go in reforming issues in the system. I love working for these families, and I am amazed by their tenacity, perseverance, and grit.”
In addition to providing the interns, the School of Social Work is tracking the effectiveness and experiences of the Prevention Eviction program through a research project. Professor Kristie Wilder, J.D., is working with Riley to conduct and analyze qualitative interviews with tenants, landlords, and court watchers who take notes during the cases. Goals include a better understanding of the barriers to gaining housing security and the difference it makes when someone has both an attorney and a social worker on the case. Ultimately, Wilder and team will make policy recommendations for better housing both locally and statewide.
“The program is a tangible way for Southern to spread the Gospel in the community and live out our values,” Wilder said. “This is changing the court experience for people and allowing for their voices to be heard. It is important for our University to continue building these positive relationships with the greater Chattanooga community, so that we can demonstrate how a faith-based institution cares deeply about the lives of others.”
Southern Adventist University | December 2020