As Shannon Lindberg appeared last April in Clark County Family Treatment Court, she was fearful that her dream of regaining custody of her five children was slipping away.
The 37-year-old Vancouver woman had failed to meet a court requirement to pay her rent on time, the needed proof that she could provide stable housing for her children.
“I was falling behind on rent and was in between jobs,” said Lindberg, who is in recovery from substance abuse. “I was having difficulty finding a job because I have a felony on my record.”
She told the judge that she thought she would soon become homeless.
An attorney in the courtroom whom she’d never met overheard her case. After the hearing, the attorney, Evan Hull, approached her and told her he wanted to help keep her in her home.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to let you be homeless,'” Hull recounted. “‘This is ridiculous. I will help you pay back the rent, and you can do community service.'”
“It was kind of awkward at some times,” Lindberg said. “But it was a gift from above for somebody like him to help somebody like me.”
The Vancouver attorney is on a mission to end homelessness in Clark County, even if it’s one family at a time.
Since 2012, Hull has used his own money to help two families, including Lindberg, avoid eviction.
He has seen the devastation from homelessness during his work at the Clark County Courthouse, as a volunteer at Open House Ministries and as an occasional volunteer at Vancouver’s Washington Elementary School.
Homeless children often have to repeatedly change schools as their parents search for temporary housing. They are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school and be placed in special education programs than their peers with stable housing, according to the Institute for Children and Poverty.
Hull is board vice president of Open House Ministries. The nonprofit provides transitional housing and job training for homeless families.
“I thought, ‘How about preventing families from becoming homeless in the first place?'” Hull said. “That’s how I transitioned from helping homeless families to preventing a family from being homeless.”
In 2012, he told Carla Feltz, Washington Elementary School’s family community resource coordinator, that he would like to help one family stay in their home during the school year.
“I said I want to prevent one family from moving because they’re homeless,” Hull said.
In November 2012, Feltz connected him with his first beneficiary, a single mother of two girls, both Washington Elementary School students.
“I helped them with money to pay their bills, including their rent,” Hull said. “As far as I know, they were able to stay in their apartment, so I said, ‘I want to do that again.'”
Hull found his next beneficiary, Lindberg, at that fateful hearing, while he was practicing law at the courthouse.
In April, he gave Lindberg $370 to pay her past-due rent. He asked her to do community service in exchange for the financial help.
In October, Lindberg again fell behind on her rent. Her subsidized rent had increased after she landed a part-time job at a restaurant, and she wasn’t able to pay the higher amount. Lindberg was about to be reunited with her daughter, Braleya Cody, 11, who had been in foster care for nearly three years. But if she were to be evicted, she said, Child Protective Services likely wouldn’t allow Braleya to live with her.
Lindberg said she humbled herself and ask for help. She contacted Hull and told him the situation. He agreed to give her $600 in cash to help her out.
“It’s an amazing opportunity, because somebody trusted me enough to give me cash,” Lindberg said. “Being a drug addict and alcoholic, the thing we lose the most is trust. I was hesitant because he has this massive trust in me. Luckily, now, I have enough common sense to do the right things.”
She paid off her rent and on Oct. 12, Braleya returned to live with her.
“By helping me with my rental situation, I got my daughter back,” she said.
As her community service, Lindberg volunteered some hours at Open House Ministries. Her work schedule later interfered with her ability to volunteer more time at the nonprofit, so Hull arranged for her to complete tasks around his home in the Lincoln neighborhood. On a recent sunny day, she and Braleya raked leaves and pruned bushes around Hull’s yard.
Hull said he’s on the lookout for his next beneficiary.
“If I’m sitting in court, and I hear someone say, ‘I’m going to be homeless,’ well, I can prevent that. I can help. I have the ability to do that.”