CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Nearly one in four people in Charlottesville live in poverty - that's almost double the national average in 2017, according to Data USA which pulls the most recent census and other federal data. Close to 11,000 of Charlottesville’s 44,000 person population live below the poverty line.

Katriece Fitch greets people and collects blood samples at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital's Outpatient Center. Her friendly laugh and calm demeanor make patients feel right at home but back at her home, life is a little more difficult.

"It’s a struggle month to month, week to week, paycheck to paycheck,” said Fitch.

Fitch's financial struggles began in 2017 after she gave birth to her now 2-year-old son, Karter.

"When I was on maternity leave I wasn't getting paid so bills catch up, bills keep going, life doesn't stop, unfortunately,” said Fitch.

Like so many other people in Charlottesville, she could not afford a place on her own and was forced to move back in with family.

"Charlottesville is expensive to live in - let’s just start there,” said Fitch.

That was until she found the Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA) Hope House. MACAA works with families who have become homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless to provide rent-free housing and help them work towards becoming self-reliant.

 "We're looking to plug the families into every resource that we can find that will help them get out of poverty,” said Nancy Kidd, MACAA director of the Hope House program.

Kidd said over the last few years, more people have come to MACAA for help and with more intense needs. "The lack of opportunity for higher education and also issues such as transportation, daycare, and all of these kinds of things play into a parents ability to be able to maintain employment that can support their household."

According to 2017 federal data compiled by a collective learning group called Data USA, 25% of people in Charlottesville live below the poverty line. That's almost double the national average of 13%. Women between the ages of 18 - 24 are the largest demographic struggling.

"Getting out of high school - you want to live on your own you want to go and do stuff. The cost of rent for a one bedroom on the low end is like $800 on the low end,” said Fitch.

"If you tell me you need help. We're going to get you help,” said Jane Colony Mills, executive director for Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry. "We've just started calling ourselves the free grocery store.”

Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry serves 1,000 families in Charlottesville and surrounding areas each week, the largest group of people falling between the ages of 19 and 59.

"There's a level of stigma about asking for aid and particularly with the demographic of younger people. They've come from being supported by parents to have to support themselves. Often they don't know how to navigate the systems that are available,” said Colony Mills.

With that same Data USA analysis showing the largest share of Charlottesville-area households making less than $10,000 a year, Colony Mills said poverty is not what you might think.

"Poverty can look like me. That's the thing I learned when I came here is there are people in our community who have jobs, who have a vehicle that just don't have enough income,” said Colony Mills. "I look at our beautiful Charlottesville and I do love this community but there are things we could do better to support everyone who lives here.”

Fitch is thankful for the help she's received from MACAA and the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry because she and her son have a chance at a better life, a chance so many families in Charlottesville don't get. "I appreciate it because I don't take it for granted every night I get to come home and I don't have to worry about rent right now, right now but when I leave here I have to be right back out there worried about rent, so I’m very appreciative.”

Thanks to the Hope House program, Fitch has been able to pay off her car, work on her credit and start a savings account. She's received a scholarship from Sentara Martha Jefferson to start prerequisites for nursing school in the fall.