Disabled mother and daughter scarred by brush with homelessness

JaNae Francis

Standard-Examiner staff

Posted:  12/11/2013 5:32 PM

LAYTON – A single mother diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her 8-year-old daughter say they will be forever scarred by their near brush with homelessness when the Davis County Housing Authority took away their apartment funding.

Kamryn Bentley, 38, said she gave away nearly all of her possessions and asked her 16-year-old son, Isaiah, to go live with his father in Salt Lake City to avoid his having to face the same fate.

“The fact that I had to send him away, it has permanently caused a separation in our family we will never get back,” Bentley said.

And the mother said she asked the father to take her daughter too but he didn’t.

The daughter suffers from neurofibromatosis, a condition that can cause tumors to grow on nerve tissue, producing skin and bone abnormalities. Worry over how she could help her daughter while living homeless were paramount to her stress for several months,  Bentley said.

“We were quite literally a week away from going into a shelter,” Bentley said. “We had nowhere to go.”

Bentley’s daughter, Amayah, clutched her mother’s leg during a newspaper interview.

“That might happen some day,” the daughter said when hearing her mother speak of the threat of homelessness.

Bentley assured her daughter the two would not be separated.

Bentley credits the work of Martin Blaustein, an attorney with Utah Legal Services in Salt Lake City, for keeping her and her daughter off the streets.

And Blaustein said he hopes to be able to do the same for others in Bentley’s type of situation in the future. Blaustein said many who face loss of Section Eight Housing funding because of breaches in their contracts don’t know that there is legal help available.

“This is the kind of thing that happens all the time,” Blaustein said.

The attorney said people who qualify for Section Eight Housing often have disabilities.

“Kamryn is the kind of person subsidized housing is designed for,” he said.

And it is those disabilities, like Bentley’s, he said, that often lead those clients to being denied housing too.

For instance, he said clients will sometimes get a letter and not know how to respond to the letter, which gets them kicked out of the program, he said.

“Some of our clients are so disabled, they don’t know what the written word means,” he said. “That’s often why they are in the situation they are in.”

He said they sometimes are notified of a hearing about their housing status and they will fail to attend the hearing.

When they find themselves on the wrong side of legal requirements, clients can quickly become homeless.

“They don’t know to contact us,” he said. “The landlord kicks them out for non-payment.”

But Bentley said she’ll forever be grateful for Blaustein’s efforts.

“Whatever Marty did, it worked, ’cause we would be sitting in the snow right now,” she said.

Bentley admits that she should have followed up when the apartments she lived in, Heather Estates in Clearfield, moved her to a new apartment on the ground floor. She said she knows communicating with the Davis County Housing Authority ultimately was her responsibility.

But she said that more than a year ago when the problem began, she was disoriented from both the symptoms of MS, a disease that attacks the nervous system, and the drugs she was taking for the disease.

She said it was that disorientation that led to her being found in violation of Davis County Housing Authority rules.

Bentley said she started falling often because of her illness, which is described as an inflammatory disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a wide range of signs and symptoms.

Bentley said her disorientation also led to her losing two jobs at the same time that she started falling often.

She said when a manager at the Heather Estates Apartments who is no longer employed there became aware of her struggles, the complex moved her from the second floor to a downstairs apartment. Bentley said the former worker there led her to believe that she would communicate the move to the housing authority.

But for some reason, the housing authority cut Bentley’s funding, claiming workers there were not notified and her new apartment was therefore not inspected as required by law.

The error was discovered more than six months later when the housing authority sent a letter to the old address and discovered she didn’t live there, Bentley and Blaustein said.

Besides cutting Bentley’s funding, housing authorities also went after Heather Estates for $8,000 in back rent since the time of the move.

Blaustein said his job of representing Bentley at legal prceedings and also talking Heather Estates into letting her live there for four months during the legal process while the complex was not collecting rent from her was complicated.

But ultimately, he was able to get an out-of-court arrangement where the apartment complex lost the four months in rent but was not sued for the rent paid by the Davis County Housing Authority while Bentley lived in an un-inspected apartment.

The attorney also got Bentley back into the subsidized housing program.

“It’s a good thing it didn’t go into litigation,” Blaustein said. “This was the best solution possible.”

Bentley said she had zero income while her rent was being denied. She was simultaniously fighting to receive disability payments from the government, which she started getting in October.

In November, Bentley moved to a new apartment complex, Maple Meadow apartments in Layton.

She said she just couldn’t face the memories of all the stress she faced at her Clearfield apartments.

“In some ways, they were trying to help me,” she said. “In other ways, they were trying to fight and get me out of there.”

Apartment manager Cami Finch said the whole situation was brought about because of a “simple mistake.”

“The paperwork was not properly completed or got lost along the way,” Finch said.

Utah Legal Services is located at 254 W. 400 South in Salt Lake City. Call the organization at 801-328-8891.

Contact reporter JaNae Francis at 801-625-4228 or Follow her on Twitter at @jfrancis.

Please see original story here.

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