In 2013 Alena Rogers was homeless with her two young boys. She had made multiple applications to local landlords, but her past substance abuse problems and criminal history meant that every landlord turned her down.
During her search, Alena learned about the Landlord Liaison Project, which encourages landlords to use alternative criteria when screening homeless families. In return, landlords receive support and advice.
Alena came to StoryCorps to talk to her current landlord, Raj Kumar, about how they met and how she introduced him to the project.
ALENA: I was looking through Craigslist, I was homeless with my two boys and I saw your listing and I just sent an email from there.
RAJ: For me, that was a little unusual email that I received from you.
ALENA: I think I just told you everything.
RAJ: Yes, you did.
ALENA: Because I was frustrated with searching and being rejected and thought the only way I can do this was just to lay it all out there. Here’s my challenges, but this is what I’ve done since — that I had gone to drug and alcohol treatment, I had gone back to school, and here’s the Landlord Liaison Project that’s willing to stand by me and would you please give me a chance.
RAJ: I was a landlord for almost a year by that time, and I had never seen or approved somebody like that. I wasn’t sure, but then I thought about it, I googled Landlord Liaison program, and I said OK, you know, let’s meet first, you see the apartment, talk about it. I just wanted to try it out.
ALENA: I wasn’t sure what to expect but I could see that you were very willing to hear me out and that gave me a lot of comfort
RAJ: I’ve been there in your place. We lost our home when I was about 16 years old. We had a lot of debt so to clear that we had to sell our house.
So when I met you, I liked you as a person. I didn’t see anything that would stop us from, you know, moving forward. I have really good experiences with you — you’re always communicative, you pay rent on time, makes my job easier.
ALENA: One of the things I wanted to ask you about is if you had any awareness of what you’ve done for my family? You allowing us to have a stable home changed everything. Now I’m in graduate school and my son’s going to go to college. We’re just not stressed anymore and we’re happy and that’s just been a huge thing for us.
RAJ: I can definitely say with, you know, the progress I have seen in your life, you have come a long way. You know, just taking that chance for a landlord, sometimes is worth it.
Alena is currently studying to become a chemical dependency counselor. Raj has since rented to three other formerly homeless families through the Landlord Liaison Project.
Their conversation was among over 90 interviews that StoryCorps recorded in 2014 and 2015 with families experiencing homelessness in the Puget Sound area. The project was called Finding Our Way, and the work was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The recordings would not have been possible without partnership with the YWCA of Seattle, King, and Snohomish; Catholic Community Services of Tacoma; Seattle University’s Center for Strategic Communications; and many other organizations. In this collection you will hear from families who have lived through homelessness sharing their experiences in their own words.
To learn how you can help, please visit Seattle University's Project on Family Homeless.
Produced by Eve Claxton for StoryCorps.
Consulting Producer: Dan Collison.
Music: "Thinking of You" by Gillicuddy. Found using the Free Music Archives.