The Top Dog and James – A Fines and Fees Story

“He is the Top Dog,” James, a Hope Center resident, said about his dog Scruffy (pictured left). James and Scruffy moved into the NCC Hope Center in December and have been a welcomed presence. The two are frequently seen in the lobby interacting with staff and other residents. James has been chronically homeless most of his adult life and has had an ongoing relationship with Friendship House for over 20 years.

As the country shut down in response to COVID-19, many individuals found themselves presented with obstacles they have never had to deal with before, James was among them. He found himself without a job, without an ID, and facing barriers he didn’t know existed.

While James attempted to apply for the stimulus check in the early months of the pandemic, he was consistently rejected. Left with few options, James and Scruffy were resigned to living in a tent. When the Hope Center opened in December we screened James to see if he’d be interested in entering this temporary shelter. Within the week, the two moved into the Hope Center in time to escape a snowstorm. FH staff members continue to work closely with James and Scruffy. We provide them with case management, support, and access to many other on-site resources. This includes resources for Scruffy through our partnership with Faithful Friends (click here to read about this partnership), ensuring that the two are not separated.

While working with us, James discovered he had a minor outstanding court fee from the 90’s. This fee was the barrier keeping him from obtaining his ID, his stimulus check, receiving disability, and finding a job. For 24 years, James did not know he had this fine holding him back. So, we stepped in to assist.

Because of your support and in partnership with the Campaign to End Debtor’s Prison, we have been able to expand our Financial Assistance program to include a Fines and Fees Fund. We work with almost 4,000 people every year who are experiencing various levels of homelessness. Some of these individuals do not have the financial stability to pay a financial burden that accompanies an infraction, violation, or misdemeanor. Some are even unaware of the fees that are attached to them. When the problem continues to be unresolved, a warrant for one’s arrest can ensue.

James sat down with FH case managers in the spring of 2021, and through the Fines and Fees Fund we were able to assist him. Using the fund, we paid this fine that was preventing him from obtaining basic necessities needed to live a self sufficient life. James reflected on working with FH during his time at the Hope Center, he commented the staff was, “Awesome as always.”

James and Scruffy continue to stay at the Hope Center while they work on their way to permanent housing. “Better than the tent, no complaints,” James added about their stay at the Hope Center.

Ultimately, James said he was grateful for FH and the Hope Center. James and Scruffy were given, “opportunities [they] didn’t have living in his tent.”

Your loving support has aided us to begin breaking the cycle of homelessness caused by court issued fines for a person living in poverty. Your donations enable us to help individuals and families, like James and Scruffy, through the Fines and Fees Fund.

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