With Prince George’s County facing unprecedented economic struggles, it has turned to United Communities against Poverty (UCAP) to help serve its most desperate citizens.

“What makes UCAP really unique is that it has so many avenues where it can help the client,” said Caprise Coppedge, former housing counselor with UCAP.
Created in 1964, UCAP has been designated the official community action agency for Prince George’s County.

“We’re part of a larger network within Maryland that provides services to the low-income and no-income individuals in Prince George’s County,” said Sandra Gammons, president and CEO of UCAP.

Among the varied services UCAP provides are food and shelter; transitional and permanent supportive housing; job and computer training; mortgage, rental and utility assistance; holiday baskets and toy drives and GED prep classes. And, it also provides services that specifically target some of the neediest populations in the county. “We have our Progressive Path program which is a 22-unit housing program,” Gammons said.  “It provides current housing and supportive services to the disabled and chronically homeless individuals and families.”

Another program targets the county’s at-risk senior population. “We have a wide variety of outings, services, trips and visitations that we schedule for senior citizens throughout the year,” Gammons said.  “If nothing else, I think it’s beneficial to at least keep active.”

The organization’s newest initiative, the Family Stabilization Program, tries to ensure that families who leave their shelters are well-equipped to survive on their own.

“For the families that leave the shelter and move into their own housing; we work with them on a regular basis to make sure that they don’t fall through the cracks again,” Gammons said.  “They have a responsibility to take a financial literacy course, in which we work on credit, budgeting and making payment arrangements.

“We just help people work with whatever situation that comes up as they live on their own.”

However, perhaps the most important program UCAP is involved in is its management of Shepherd’s Cove.  Shepherd’s Cove is a homeless shelter for women and their children to have a safe place to rest daily.

“It’s the largest women and children’s shelter in the county with 100 beds,” Gammons said.  “We provide three meals, case management, employment support along with workshops and seminars on job readiness.”

It’s a facility, that according to Tim Jansen, executive director of Prince George’s County Community Crisis Services, has seen a steady stream of referrals over the years.

“No I really can’t say that there’s ever been fluctuation,” Jansen said.  “Our call rates are pretty similar to what they’ve been in the recent past.”

One issue that seems to be stretching the group is the rise of foreclosures in the county.  According to RealtyTrac, there are still 5,667 foreclosed homes in the county.  Fortunately for UCAP, it doesn’t have to deal with that great of a number. 

However it still has issues serving the many downtrodden families that do rely on it for assistance.

“The sheer number of foreclosures, alone, has been our biggest problem,” Gammons said. 

Gammons said the group currently has four certified housing counselors on staff to provide foreclosure assistance.  She knows that UCAP is exhausting all of its resources to serve residents.

“Our staff is dealing with those numbers, but we could always use more,” she said. 

“Right now it’s about a week and a half waiting period to get an appointment, but we’re doing the best we can.”

Coppedge agrees with Gammons.  She worked with UCAP for over two years and admitted that there was a very sharp increase in the number of people who came to UCAP for mortgage assistance.  She says in 2007, they had 49 people needing assistance for the entire year, but by July 2008; they’d already worked with 200 people.

“In the beginning, there wasn’t any Obama plan and the communication between the mortgage companies and individuals was horrible,” Coppedge said.  “I think because the housing counselors were so diligent in getting the voice of our clients out, we were able to make some serious strides in the mortgage industry to make sure there were plenty of workout plans for our clients.

“As a result of our diligence we were able to obtain many financial grants.  We were able to get assistance for people who were just one or two months behind to stop the snowball effect of things getting out of control.”

That aggressive stance led UCAP to have a 57 percent to70 percent success rate on its workout plans during the Coppedge’s tenure with the organization.

Gammons said she enjoys helping others, but wants to raise awareness about the group, its services and its mission.

“I think we’re best kept secret in Prince George’s County,” she said.  “I really do.” 

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO