This video is part of the See What’s Needed Now Series, created to keep Pinellas County up-to-date on the community’s most dire needs.
Hi. I’m Duggan Cooley, CEO of Pinellas Community Foundation.
Earlier this year, we introduced the Needed Now Fund to highlight issues in our community where we can all make a difference.
One of those issues is the threat of eviction. Far too many in our community are facing challenges with evictions and may lose their homes, but there are solutions.
Today, for an interview, I’m joined by Caryn Rosencrantz, the senior supervising attorney for housing at Gulfcoast Legal Services.
Duggan: Welcome, Karen. Can you tell us how eviction mitigation has had an impact on our community?
Caryn: Sure, of course. Well, I think that at least from the position of an attorney, I can say that we help people to stay housed, which is probably the most important thing that you can do for someone facing eviction.
Caryn: The harmful impact of evictions on a human being cannot be overstated. Homes are the cornerstone of a stable existence, and without a stable place, it leads to a lot of other problems for people.
Caryn: The stress and emotional toll that stems from an inability to pay one’s rent can be overwhelming. It impacts your mental and your physical health.
Caryn: I think as a society, we need to put keeping people housed in safe, affordable homes as a … say that it’s a basic human right.
Caryn: Before I was coming here today, I was reviewing the book “Evicted,” which is a famous book by Matthew Desmond. He won a Pulitzer Prize for it, and he said — this was in 2016 — he said eviction functions as a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.
Caryn: When you have us step in at Gulfcoast Legal Services to try to help you, whether it’s to negotiate something with your landlord before an eviction is filed or represent you in court, we can kind of alleviate a little bit of the burden. Because once you’re evicted, it’s a debilitating cycle.
Caryn: People get 24 hours once a writ of possession is served on them to get out after a court process, and you leave behind your possessions — it’s not enough time to take things with you.
Caryn: You’re going to be searching desperately for another place to go. And once you’re evicted, landlords really don’t want you.
Caryn: You can imagine how traumatic that is if you have a child with you. Switching schools, missing days from schools to try to find a new place to live. It’s really a terrible situation.
Caryn: I think that our effort in keeping people housed, working at a deal — whatever it is, is a really great service that we can provide. I just wish we could do it much more.
Duggan: Thank you. Evictions really have the ability to have tremendous impact on individuals and families on our community as a whole. Thank you for talking about the challenge of evictions and also focusing on some of the solutions through Gulfcoast Legal Services.
Duggan: As an attorney working in housing and working with tenants, can you tell us what is the one best piece of advice you have for people who might be facing eviction?
Caryn: OK, I think that we tend to avoid that which makes us feel uncomfortable, and people wait too long to seek legal help. They try to avoid what’s happening. They don’t want to deal with the fact that they can’t pay their rent or they’re having a problem, and they wait until it’s too late. They wait until the eviction is filed to come talk to us.
Caryn: The time to … I mean, we’ll jump in and help, we’ll jump in, and that goes without saying … but the sooner you come to us, the better, because we can reach out to a landlord and try to negotiate something for you the minute you know you have a problem.
Caryn: Now that we have the Emergency Rental Assistance Program with Pinellas County — the federal funds that are being administered — we can also help people get through that process.
Caryn: So, I think that the first thing is to come early — seek help early. And the second thing I would say is that a lot of Floridians don’t understand that just because they do respond to a complaint in an eviction court by themselves … they think that they’re going to be heard by a judge, and that’s not necessarily true in Florida.
Duggan: Thank you very much for providing that information for people that would be with us today. We appreciate all that you do at Gulfcoast and appreciate you being with us today.
Caryn: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Closing Comments From Duggan
I want to thank Gulfcoast Legal Services for all that they do to bring free legal aid to people in need in our community.
If you find it in your heart to support the Needed Now Fund or want more information, visit us at PinellasCF.org.
And that’s what’s needed now.
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