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January 27, 2011

Readers respond to Laurel resident's plight

Last weekend I wrote about the rough economy's effect on unemployed workers ages 50 and up, who are having an especially rotten time finding a new job. A growing number are at the brink of homelessness.

One, Laurel resident Kathleen Harwell, 59, has searched for nearly two years to replace her eliminated administrative-assistant position. Unemployment benefits exhausted and too young for Social Security, she was about to be evicted from her mobile-home community.

She owns her house outright but had fallen several months behind on the rent for her land. Her management company warned her in December that it would move to auction it to pay the arrears if she couldn't pay up by mid-January. "I'm out of luck unless a miracle happens," she said last week.

Readers took that as a call to action. Several sent checks to Harwell, made out to the company, that collectively paid off the $2,100 in arrears as well as her February rent. That buys her a month to keep searching for a job or another alternative to life in a shelter.

Some of the people donating money are in that 50-plus age group and felt fortunate that they were doing all right. One woman, a retiree, felt a connection based on background: "I was an administrative assistant for many years," she told me.

In thank-you notes to the strangers who stepped in at her time of need, Harwell said she wrote: "Your kindness will always be in my thoughts."

"At least for the time being, right now, things are stabilized," said Harwell, who spends part of every week going through help-wanted listings at the one-stop job center in Columbia. (That's how we connected in the first place.)

Offers of help, including job and job-training suggestions, also came in for Eve Prietz, whose home is in foreclosure. So don't let anyone convince you that people don't care about each other anymore.

The real key for most people at the brink of eviction or foreclosure is employment. I hope the job picture improves substantially soon, because people's lives depend on it.

In the meantime: Do you have a housing plan B, C and D in place in case you lose your job? Could you survive if you're out of work for a year or more?

A new survey finds that 38 percent of Americans feel less comfortable about their savings level than they did a year earlier, compared with just 19 percent who feel more comfortable. So financial insecurity remains an ever-present issue, even though the recession was officially over a year and a half ago.

I'd like to hear about creative things you've done to keep a roof over your head in tough times, or to cut back on housing expenses to build up more savings.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Homelessness, The economy


That story really touched me. I had just received my BGE bill and was angry how high it was, but reading that story but things in perspective for me. I hope something can be done about the blatant age discrimination and God bless the readers who helped this woman. The market is getting a little better I hope she finds something soon.

My plan B? My boufriend sort of lives with me even though he has his own house in Harford County. If either of us lose our jobs - we will drop down to the home of the person still employed. So far we have been lucky - I have parrots so I want to make sure they keep their home as well.

That was a very good article, Jaime. It left me feeling so sad ... I'm middle-aged too, and cannot imagine how I'd cope if i lost my job. As much as i want to buy a home, maybe i better concentrate more on building up an emergency fund. Thanks for the reality check.

It's also left me even more angry at the too-big-to-fail banks that put us in this financial crisis. And as a liberal, I'm very unhappy about Pres. Obama's decisions to put Goldman Sachs alumni in key economic policy positions. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse!

I may be okay if I lose my job, since I have savings and alternate income. Anyway, who cares about me. I'm so happy to hear that people helped out the woman who lost her job.

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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