Accessing Assistance for Basic Needs (housing, food, utilities, and clothing)

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW
Last Reviewed: July 12, 2022

When faced with a cancer diagnosis, the ability to ensure that your practical, day-to-day needs are met may not seem like a priority. However, it is important to maintain a safe place to live, have food on the table, electricity, water, and clothes on your back. There are things you can do to be proactive in meeting your basic needs, but perhaps the most important is not being afraid to ask for help. Many people you know have likely said, "What can I do?" Covering your basic daily needs can be a great place for people to make an impact and help you cope with life after cancer. The following are some tips to access help:

  • Contact your mortgage company, bank, or landlord regarding your health and potential concerns about being able to pay your mortgage or rent on time. Many companies will work with you to make other arrangements and or assess other potential financial resources (refinancing, second mortgage, reverse mortgage, viatical, or loan against life insurance) to help you stay in your home. Many landlords are willing to work with you on payment plans. The important thing is not to IGNORE the issue.
  • If staying in your home is not an option, think about other family or friends with whom you could stay. Offer to contribute what you can to the household; this can include things like housing in exchange for child or pet care. Be creative when thinking about how to maintain the roof over your head.
  • Work with your social worker to identify possible resources for emergency financial assistance to help cover some of your expenses. Contact your local community-based organizations (Salvation Army, Lions Club), religious-based groups (Catholic Social Services, Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Family Services), or your church, PTA, or any other group you may be involved in for assistance. Asking for help is humbling, but often your friends and neighbors are more than willing to pitch in.
  • LIHEAP (Low-income home energy assistance program) is a federally funded program that is managed by local/state utility providers. LIHEAP can help pay your home heating/cooling costs as well as assist with weatherization projects to make your home more efficient. To access the LIHEAP management organization in your area see the LIHEAP STATE AND TERRITORY CONTACT LISTING.
  • There are many local agencies that deliver meals to cancer patients. Ask your social worker for assistance and a referral for local meal services. Some agencies limit services based on nutritional needs, income, and age.
  • Did you know that many states offer free or low-cost cell phones to persons who meet low-income status and have medical needs? If you receive benefits from a low-income program, including Food Stamps or SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), among others, you are likely eligible to access a free phone AND a monthly allowance of minutes for use with this phone. This is critical to enable communication between you and your healthcare provider. Ask your social worker about eligibility and link you with local phone providers that participate in this program.
  • Local religious communities, churches, and organizations can be great resources for food, clothing, and other basic essentials. During the holidays, many of these organizations have special outreach programs to target families in need.
  • Use web-based services like Meal Train, Lotsa Helping Hands, Sign up Genius or My Life Line to help prioritize your needs and coordinate volunteers to help out.


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