“Our job is to educate [homeowners] so they can know all the options available and make good decisions,” says housing counselor Carmen Castro-Conroy. (Joseph Victor Stefanchik/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

We see a lot of families who have either lost their jobs or experienced income reduction through a cut in salary or another type of crisis related to illness, death, divorce, disability. We see all of it. They feel overwhelmed. Our job is to educate them so they can know all the options available and make good decisions.

Losing a home is devastating; just thinking about losing a home is very stressful. It’s not necessarily just a house that we’re talking about, it’s a family. Some clients come to us when things have very much deteriorated, and they’re under a lot of stress and their health is at risk. Not everyone will stay in the homes they’re in, but it’s better to be at peace than to try to keep a home that they cannot afford and end up in a hospital. It’s difficult if you’ve lived in a home for a long time, and it’s the only place that you think you’re going to be okay.

Many times, even if they have family or friends, they feel embarrassed to let people know what they’re going through, so they suffer in silence. I tell them that regardless of the outcome, they’re not going to be going through this by themselves. It’s my responsibility to encourage them and to lift them up. I tell them, “This is a house; you’re bigger than this, and you’re going to come out of this stronger.”

I hear a lot of judgment out there of people that go into default, but I always think it could happen to anybody. I have clients who never thought they’d be diagnosed with cancer. Never thought they’d lose a husband. Never thought they were going to lose their job. It makes me very conscious about how one day you could think you have everything, and the next day your life could dramatically change.

I just got an outcome this week of a case I opened in January 2011. This was a client whose husband left her with five children to care for. She went from being a stay-at-home mom to finding a full-time job, but her income still wasn’t enough to make regular mortgage payments. She just qualified for a permanent modification, so she’ll be able to stay in the property.

I love what I do. I was thinking about this during the weekend, during Mass. This is one way to show that you love God, working in the face of people that are in trouble, people that are suffering. Before ’08, I was working in a home-ownership education program. We were all pulled out from that to serve in foreclosure intervention counseling. We didn’t know how long it was going to last, and now we’re in the fourth year of crisis. And we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.