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Coastal Voices: Avoid becoming homeless

Do you think you will never have a financial crisis? Think again. How long would it take you to find new housing or a new job? The suggestions below may help you avoid mistakes others have made and position yourself for a better outcome by planning ahead.

It is not uncommon to have more than one crisis in your life. Although there is no true material security, you can avoid problems while you have the funds. The following suggestions are based upon the most prevalent true cases the Homeless Help Committee encountered over the last three years:

•First and foremost, get professional advice as soon as things start going wrong. Consult more than one. There are ways to fix things if you act in time. Don't procrastinate or let depression take over.

•Swallow your pride. Accept help before things get worse.

•Have $2,400 minimum saved from your invisible spending. Get advice on how to change spending habits.

•Don't pay emergency bills with your housing money!

•If you own a home and cannot meet the mortgage, rent the house or a room right away. Or refinance, if possible. You do not need credit for a second mortgage. Timing is everything. Where are you going to live, if foreclosed?

•Keep in good standing with your bank (don't overdraw).

•If you do not have a bank account, get one. Social Security Insurance? Get "direct deposit" before you are robbed or lose the money.

•Repair your credit. You many need it for new housing.

•If a family, acquire low-cost life insurance.

•Keep in touch with relatives, even if they are out of state.

•Make a pact with friends to help each other in an emergency (most rental agreements allow a two week visit).

•Acquire a camp stove, tent, two tarps and a bicycle with lock and repair kit. These things are handy anyway.

•Get a duplicate I.D. and keep it in a safe place. No I.D., no services. A lost I.D. is common. You may suffer while waiting.

•Order a certified birth certificate for new I.D., HUD, or passport. Next year you will need a passport to fly anywhere.

•If you are already living in your car and making payments, trade it in for a lower cost diagnosed van, camper or trailer.

•If you find that you can not afford auto insurance, don't drive. Your car may be impounded forever, plus you'll suffer high penalties.

•Contact the Red Cross immediately for emergency services if you are in a fire. Keep fire and other insurance current.

•Contact the Red Cross for a list of survival items needed in case of a natural disaster. Remember the Klamath flood?

•Buy a trailer instead of staying in motels. First, contact parks for rules and check back registration. A dog must be under 40 pounds. Best to buy a trailer from an owner on site. If you can't buy a trailer, stay in a campground.

•Work for cash. If you don't pay into Medicare, State Disability, and Social Security, you won't get it. An exception is SSI – and if you qualify, getting assistance can take a year. Read Social Security pamphlets and know the rules in advance.

•If you care for a relative that needs to transfer to a convalescent home paid for by the state, all assets will go to the state unless the title has been transferred (several years?) before admittance. Medicare only pays for a limited stay. Instead of an heir with housing, you could be homeless. For an SSI recipient with assets who becomes deceased, the estate may receive a payback bill from Social Security.

•If you have a personal injury, get help. There are no attorney fees. Instead, they take a percentage of the settlement.

You need not lose your home; if you cannot afford the property tax, are 62 or older, and earn less than $24,000 a year ($31,800 next year), contact the California State Controller's Office for an application for deferred tax. This help is 50 years old. Don't wait until it is too late.

•Use a bank escrow for security when purchasing anything of value. Don't be ripped off by back registration fees, false ownership, bad checks, purchased item missing. Lost money cannot pay the rent.

•Get contracts, agreements, estimates and bills of sale in writing. Keep an original copy.

•If you want a roommate past the visiting period allowed, talk to your landlord first. Actually read your rental agreement.

•Agency rules change, so always check with the agency, not others. Position yourself now for anything you would want in an emergency.

For our critics, unless they have a crystal ball, a crisis can happen to them also. Remember 1929, 1980, 1987, 2000, 9/11, Katrina, Silicon Valley, Enron, divorce, fire and natural disasters? Hard working people lost everything. Read the Book of Job.

Hopefully, you will stay gainfully employed and never face a housing problem. Even so, nothing is lost by planning ahead and acquiring advance information.

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