Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Down But Not Out

Senior Director of Programs & Operations, Jeannine Short, shares...

Teresa, a single mother of four entered our program as the result of foreclosure on the home she was renting. Like other families in similar straits, she made the difficult decision to double-up with relatives though it meant splitting her children among family members who were willing to make room. Overcome by the guilt of being away from her children, however, she began to look at other housing options, but soon discovered that her meager income—barely minimum wage—could not support a suitable housing situation. Determined to increase her income, she enrolled in and completed Pharmacy Tech Training and was almost immediately hired by a local pharmacy. Unfortunately, her hours were drastically cut and, once again, she was barely making minimum wage. Teresa, however, was unwilling to accept defeat. She launched an intensive, no holds barred job search and eventually landed a position with wages that almost doubled what she’d made previously.

Today, Teresa is certainly looking ahead to the future. Not only is she working diligently to remove barriers to permanent housing; but she is, for the first time in her life, amassing a savings, reducing debt and laying a solid and secure foundation for her children. This single mother of four is a testament to the old saying, “I may be down, but I’m not out!”

- Laura Gray

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Power of Giving Thanks

Yesterday I was inspired by a friend. She’s one of the people deeply impacted by the downturn in the economy – the people whose lives have changed dramatically. She and her husband are going to lose their house because his business had to close. She had retired when things looked good and then the bottom dropped out for their business. With her part-time income and the minimum wage job her husband took, they would no longer qualify for their house.

So, why was I inspired?

Because instead of being defeated by what she is losing, she is giving thanks for what she has. She has a husband she loves dearly, her children are healthy, and they have a place to go when they leave their house.

She will be my inspiration forever - to give thanks for the good, while acknowledging the bad.

As bad as this economy has been for so many families, I want to share my thanks for the funding to help families, who like my friend, had to make unforeseen changes in how they live.

We have received funding for the last two years from the William T. Kemper Foundation to provide emergency assistance to families we serve. This year, we received funds from United Way’s United for Hope Campaign to both provide emergency assistance and establish a job services to the families we serve through our various programs. Just last week, we launched our own outreach to more families using stimulus funding to prevent homelessness or rapidly re-house the newly homeless.

And, thanks to all of the individuals, congregations, corporations, civic groups, and foundations that made it possible for Community LINC to provide homes for more than 170 people this year and do outreach to hundreds more.

And, a special thank you to all of the volunteers who keep our mission alive: to the Board of Directors for their contributions of wealth, wisdom and work; to the committee members who help us do a better job in our programs, marketing, fundraising, public policy, human resources, and in managing our property; to “The Guys” from Atonement Lutheran Church who come each week to maintain our facility; to our volunteer Apartment Coordinator; to the congregations and groups who refurbish and furnish our apartments; to the many people who come so faithfully to budget with our families; and to the wonderful souls who work with our children week in and week out. You are a blessing to us all.

- Laura Gray

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Success is Relative

Just recently, Community LINC had the opportunity to work with a young mother of three who faced some relatively unique challenges. Although she met the basic criteria for acceptance into the program and successfully fulfilled all of the steps for entry, it wasn't long before we realized that success for Ashley would look different.

True to our mission, we set out to assist her with removing barriers to housing and employment, establishing a savings account, managing her finances, learning new life skills--all of the things necessary for attaining self-sufficiency. But, for some reason, she wasn't moving forward. Despite pep talks and promises to try harder, she just couldn't make any head way. However, during a particular conversation, Ashley stated that she only wanted two things--to feel better inside and to get an apartment for her children.

As a result, Ashley was connected with the necessary services to address her major depression, tormenting fears and significant distrust of people. Within a relatively short period of time, she started to feel better inside and found the motivation to search for and obtain permanent housing.

Though there are many success stories of those who have settled mounds of debt, purchased homes, and realized educational goals, Ashely is equally successful. Why? Because success is sometime relative to the individual. rather than the whole.

- Jeannine Short, Director of Programs

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What Happens to the Kids When a Family Becomes Homeless? Part 2

There is a new study published in American Journal of Orthopsychiatry that helps capture what homelessness does to the emotional well-being of children. The study points out that being homeless doesn’t always have a negative impact on a child’s well-being. However, homeless children are at a higher risk because of their experiences. Like other low-income children they have more exposure to violence, and there are stresses specifically related to being homeless (especially in a shelter setting).

There are a lot of negative consequences for children: feelings of stigma, shame, instability, loss (of homes, friends, and possessions), interpersonal abuse, crime victimization and abject poverty.

When there is nothing to counterbalance those experiences, young, homeless children tend to have more depressive, anxious feelings.

It’s reassuring to realize that there are factors that can counterbalance the experience. “Social or family involvement, secure attachments, and positive self-esteem positively affect mental and physical health, and decrease substance use and self-harming behaviors.”

We are very fortunate to have partnerships with two other agencies that make it possible for us to give our families the tools to help the children. Because of those partnerships, we can give children mental health therapy when they need it, and give our parents new tools to become better parents for their children.

The State of Missouri’s Children’s Trust Fund has funded our Children’s Program, including play therapy for the last two years. Just this year, we entered into a partnership with The Children’s Place. They do mental wellness assessments of our youngsters (ages 2-8), therapy for those who need it, and teach parenting classes for the adults.

One of their first comments to me was how excited they were to work with a group of engaged and receptive parents. That’s probably another indicator that the adults who choose to work through our program make a serious commitment when they become residents. They want to change their lives and the prospects for their children. And, with our partners, we’re going to help them try.

- Laura Gray

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chicken or the Egg - When it Comes to Homelessness

We know from the National Center on Family Homelessness that mothers experiencing homelessness struggle with mental health issues.
  • They have three times the rate of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) (36%) and twice the rate of drug and alcohol dependence (41%).
  • About 50% of mothers have experienced a major depressive episode since becoming homeless.
We recently saw the reverse, where depression in a mother living near poverty level contributed to her family becoming homeless.

Paulette and her 3 children entered our transitional housing on October 15, 2009. Paulette’s 4 year old daughter passed away in January 2009 after having an asthma attack. Paulette was depressed and unable to return to work at the same daycare center her daughter had attended prior to passing. Paulette had no savings and very little support from her children’s father. Paulette lost her job and was unable to pay rent which meant she had to move in with her father in his one bedroom apartment with her other two children. Her goals are to obtain employment and work towards eliminating some old debt. Paulette stated Community LINC will be the start she needs to get her life back on track. Her main focus is housing and her mental health.

Her family coach calls depression "the invisible sickness." She sees it in fathers who spiral into depression when they aren’t able to provide for their families. We see it in most mothers.

But, we also see people overcome the impact of depression.

Caroline, a single mother of a little girl, came to Community LINC after a long stint of substance abuse, homelessness, and chaos including depression. While in our program, she maintained her hard won sobriety, became gainfully employed, retired a significant amount of debt and began work toward an undergraduate degree. She more than doubled her wages and no longer relies on public assistance from food stamps. Today, Caroline and her daughter live in a quaint three-bedroom home.

Our mental health therapist works with all of our adults on all of their issues. She counts herself successful when she only hears from a graduate family occasionally after they leave the program. If she hears from them constantly, she feels they haven’t achieved the independence that is our goal.

Happily, she doesn’t hear from Caroline very often. But, this week, Caroline came by to take her out to the construction site for her Habitat for Humanity home. In her lifetime, she’ll have gone from homeless to homeownership.

- Laura Gray

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pulling a Share of the Load

We’ve long been proud of the unique success of our program in ending homelessness for families – over the years an average of 80% of our families leave our transitional housing for a permanent home. About the same percentage DO NOT become homeless again for at least our two year follow-up period.

We always felt that tracking those results was a measure of the independence our families achieve after they have completed our program.

Jeannine Short, our Senior Director of Programs and Operations, just completed a study that revealed another measure of independence and our success in addressing the root causes of poverty. The study covered all of the families that left our program from 2005 through August of 2009. She compared the sources of income at entry and exit.

The results were gratifying.

On average, our families decreased their dependence on public assistance by 46% and increased income they earned by 109%. By becoming taxpayers themselves, our residents are saving the government more than $15,000 per month. That savings will total $180,000 every year.

The increase in income from private sources like wages and child support was even more gratifying. Our families increased the tax base by almost $55,000 per month, or $660,000 per year.

- Laura Gray

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stimulus Funding

We were excited to have a new staff member join us this week. He’s a warm, welcoming guy, but, the best part is that he’s here to reach out to people whose lives have been deeply affected by the economy – those who are newly homeless or at risk of becoming homeless for the first time.

From the National Alliance to end Homelessness: “Homeless programs are about to get a big push in a new direction. They used to focus on providing food and shelter. Now, the economic stimulus package is providing $1.5 billion to prevent people from becoming homeless and to quickly re-house those who do.”

This pool of funding that made it possible to hire our new case manager will give these families respite from the changes that have so dramatically changed their lives and the lives of their children. Our goal is for our case management to help them find needed services and the financial boost they need to remain independent and regain self-sufficiency.

- Laura Gray

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Finding Strength

A classic characteristic of women who have been in abusive and controlling relationships is the belief that they are worthless and incapable of surviving on their own. Even when there is no physical abuse, constant subjection to verbal assaults and demeaning mistreatment results in a weakened self-image and little or no confidence. Fortunately, many who somehow find the strength to leave such relationships also find the strength to succeed. Michelle is a wonderful example.

After leaving an extremely controlling husband, whom she solely relied on for care and support, Michelle entered Community LINC. With few marketable skills, a limited employment history, and few personal possessions, she entered the program and immediately began her long and difficult journey toward self-sufficiency. Motivated by her adverse circumstances, Michelle enrolled in and completed a GED program, settled all of her legal issues, obtained more lucrative employment, retired over $2000.00 worth of debt, saved over $3000.00, and moved to permanent housing.

Despite a long history of relying on others, Michelle found her strength and moved from dependence to self-sufficiency!

- Jeannine Short, Director of Programs

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Interventions for Homeless Families

A couple of us just left a meeting with a researcher from a company engaged by HUD to study the effectiveness of the various methods of moving homeless families from emergency shelter to permanent housing.

They will evaluate several approaches to ending homelessness for families:

  1. Housing subsidies and no other services
  2. Transitional housing with intensive supportive services
  3. Rapid re-housing (placement in housing with temporary rental assistance) followed by services focused on keeping housing
  4. Assisting families in finding their own solutions to their housing problem.

The study will attempt to answer several questions:

  1. What is the relative effectiveness of the different approaches?
  2. Are the same interventions that give short-term housing stability effective for the long-term?
  3. Are there interventions that are more effective for some categories of homeless families than others?

Fortunately, when they measure effectiveness, they will be looking at more than ending homelessness for a family for a few months. They want to know if an approach will be effective in keeping a family stable – i.e. in permanent housing for at least 18 months. They also will be looking at how well the approach keeps families intact, because family dissolution is a significant side effect of homelessness. They will consider the well being of the adults and children, and finally, the impact on self-sufficiency – employment, earnings and dependence on public assistance.

I’ve mentioned some of our successes by these measures in previous blogs: 83% of our families remain in permanent housing for a minimum of 24 months; we routinely reunite families with up to six children; the earnings of our residents increase by more than 50% and their dependence on public assistance decreases by more than 30% by the time they leave.

Kansas City may or may not be chosen as one of the sites for the study. We were invited to the meeting as one of the agencies that are likely to participate. Even if we aren’t one of the cities in the study, it will be fascinating to learn from the results when they are reported out from 2011-2013.

- Laura Gray

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Value of Relationships

According to Dr. Ruby Payne, noted author of "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," there are certain hidden rules among the classes. Where the middle class value things as possessions and the wealthy one-of-kind objects, legacies and pedigrees, the impoverished value people/relationships.

Recently, a current resident asked permission to bring a significant other into the program, explaining that he would be a tremendous support and that his inclusion would be beneficial for the success of the family. After very careful consideration, he was taken through the process and enrolled in the program. What has resulted is a family that was simply going through the motions has become a family focused on ending the cycle of poverty in their lives. To this end, the significant other is nearing completion of his aviation training--in which he is the top performer in his class--and the family is developing their plan to transition to permanent housing.

Though we may not readily see the value in the relationships that our families choose to maintain, we have to sometimes be willing to take the chance that they know best.

- Jeannine Short, Director of Programs

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tackling Homelessness in Kansas City

By the time this is published, the KCMO City Council hopefully will have passed a resolution to establish a Homelessness Task Force.

That’s a good thing.

The task force will be charged to identify the issues related to homelessness and develop a plan with both immediate and long term strategies. Hopefully, our City will be as successful in reducing homelessness as some of the cities that have already created 10-year plans to end homelessness.

A point in time census conducted on a single day in January of this year determined that there we about 1,400 homeless individuals and an additional 1,200 people in families. Unfortunately, that doesn't count people who are doubling up or couch surfing (staying with family or friends).

Based on our experience, I would guess the number is significantly higher now. The number of families calling us or dropping in to request services has climbed steeply this year. Thirty four families requested our services in January and 105 in June. Compared to the first six months of 2008, the cumulative total number of walk-ins and call-ins has increased by about 280% this year. Our waiting list is now up to 114 families.

Thank you, City Council. The City couldn’t have picked a better time to form the Homelessness Task Force.

- Laura Gray

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Our Programs Are Successful

Yesterday at our staff meeting, we had a conversation about what makes both our Transitional Housing program and our outreach programs successful.

I’m very clear about what makes our Transitional Housing program uniquely successful (8 out of 10 families will not become homeless again). It’s the selection process that identifies the people ready to do the work to break old patterns, all of the services (family coaching, mental wellness counseling, budgeting & life skills training) working in concert, and the community of support that grows within residents, staff and volunteers.

So I asked the outreach staff to tell us why their outreach is successful. It made me realize just how much outreach the staff of Transitional Housing program are doing, much less those staff in purely outreach jobs.

Our Transitional Housing Family Coaches are case managing all of the walk-ins, including an estimated 35 families per month who will never become residents of Community LINC. They refer them to services, help them face the reality of their situation and understand their options. As one of the Transitional Housing Family Coaches said, understanding what caused our residents to become homeless helps the coaches quickly identify the key issues for the walk-in families. They also case managed the 113 families who are now on our waiting list.

The staff who are exclusively doing outreach under the Community Work Support contract believe they are successful getting better outcomes for their clients for a couple of reasons. One is their tenacity and another is because they go to where the clients are – their homes. All of our outreach clients have case managers for the Temporary Aid to Needy Families and many other government agencies. Our staff teach them how to work within the system that frustrated them to the point of giving up and becoming noncompliant.

- Laura Gray

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Graduation Stories

Some success stories about families graduating next Tuesday from Community LINC's transitional housing program...

Kenya came to Community LINC with her 3 children. Because she had been incarcerated, it was difficult for her to find employment that would pay enough money to support her family. Having a felony eviction also kept her from applying for public housing. When she went into a homeless shelter, she was unemployed and had moved from family member to family member. Kenya was a hard worker when she was at Community LINC, but because of the felony conviction, everything she did took extra effort. Kenya got a job with Aim for Peace, a program that assists families of convicted felons. Through this program, she is able to give the services she once needed. While at Community LINC, Kenya eliminated the debt that kept her from finding housing. She and her children now have a permanent home.

Caroline, a single mother of a little girl, came to Community LINC after a long stint of substance abuse, homelessness, and chaos. While in our program, she maintained her hard won sobriety, became gainfully employed, retired a significant amount of debt and began work toward an undergraduate degree. She more than doubled her wages and no longer relies on public assistance from food stamps. Today, Caroline and her daughter live in a quaint three-bedroom home.

Shirley and her son became homeless after her health made it impossible to run her home day care. She found it difficult to get back into the work force after so many years providing childcare. When she lost her income, she and her son not only became homeless, but her foster children were removed from her care. She and her son eventually ended up at the Forest Avenue Shelter. After she came to Community LINC, she found and maintained permanent employment which prepared her to apply for a Section 8 housing voucher. She and her son now live again in permanent housing.

Desiree is a mother of three daughters who had a stable job, but didn’t earn very much working in a drugstore. She couldn’t afford to provide housing for her family, so they had lived with several relatives. She wanted something more stable for her children, but her credit problems and the legal issues they caused kept her from finding housing. During her time at Community LINC, Desiree paid off all of her legal debt and was able to move her children to permanent housing.

Mario, Ayeshia and their daughter came to Community LINC from the reStart homeless shelter. Mario and Ayeshia had lived with family members, but space was limited, so they had to go to a homeless shelter. Mario’s felony conviction and legal issues arising from traffic warrants made it very difficult for him to find a job. He couldn’t afford legal counsel, or pay the tickets and fines. Ayeshia had been downsized at her company and found it difficult to focus on finding employment without stable housing. After coming to Community LINC, both parents found permanent employment, they paid all housing related debt, they resolved all legal barriers that kept them from working and obtaining drivers licenses. Ayeshia and Mario are residing in permanent housing in South Kansas City.

Cynthia is a single mother of four children who entered our program in April of 2007. Due to complications arising from a high-risk pregnancy, she was unable to work after her short-term disability ran out. Consequently, Cynthia’s employment was terminated and the family was evicted from their apartment within two months. In addition, she had mounds of old debts, significant barriers to housing, and had been forced to postpone plans to obtain a secondary degree. In April 2009 Cynthia and her four children moved into a four bedroom ranch-style home. Adding to her success, she has more than doubled her income, retired most of her debt, amassed over $3000.00 in savings and no longer relies on any public assistance.

Virna had served in the Air Force and was honorably discharged. Like many others, she lost her job at Sprint, which eventually made it impossible to keep her apartment. She and her daughter moved from family member to family member until she was forced to go to an emergency shelter. Virna and her 15 year old daughter were referred to Community LINC by City Union Mission. While in the program, Virna found a full time job that tripled her income. She also connected to veterans benefits for herself and her daughter. She was able to remove all housing related debt, as well as some of her outstanding credit debt. Virna also achieved her goal of returning to school to finish her degree. When she left for a permanent home, she had accumulated enough savings to create a cushion for her family in case of emergencies.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More Than Ending Homelessness

A couple of weeks ago I told you about an article written by Mary Beth Shinn of Vanderbilt University called Ending Homelessness for Families: The Evidence for Affordable Housing. The bottom line for the article, and my blog entry, is that families become homeless when they are extremely low income and can’t afford an apartment at the market rate rent. They end up living with relatives or in places “unsuitable for human habitation” when there isn’t enough subsidized housing.

If the goal is just to end homelessness, for the vast majority of families, all they need is a housing subsidy. However, our mission is to develop self-sufficient families.

For some families, self-sufficiency will only mean ending their homelessness. We know that among our families there are some that will never afford a home of their own without a government subsidy. Poorly educated single parents will always be challenged to independently support their families.

Many of our families are aiming for a different kind of self-sufficiency though. Myeshia finished her GED and starts college this Fall. Stephanie paid down the debt that was keeping her from getting a home. John is finishing culinary school. Virna left nearly debt-free for her own (unsubsidized) apartment. The list goes on.

For them, self-sufficiency will mean that they rise above homelessness and out of poverty.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Knowledge is Power

The saying is certainly true for Vera and her family. Following layoff and a history of poor choices and financial decisions, Vera and her family were subjected to a long and painful stint of living with family members and in homeless shelters. Once she entered Community LINC and began to take advantage of the programs and classes, however, things started to turn around. Now armed with newly acquired budgeting and life skills, Vera is almost debt-free and once again living in the comforts of her own apartment.

Yes, it is true. Knowledge is power!

- Jeannine Short, Director of Programs

Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Poor to Homeless

The National Alliance to End Homelessness and Enterprise Community Partners commissioned a review of the existing research on family homelessness. Marybeth Shinn of Vanderbilt University wrote the brief, released on the 27th - Ending Homelessness for Families: The Evidence for Affordable Housing.

Just one of the many insights in the brief is about the differences between the families that became homeless and poor families that never became homeless.

Homeless families resemble poor families in many ways. They have limited education and work histories – only about half have a high school diploma or GED. Both groups experience high levels of depression and are exposed to high levels of community and domestic violence.

A major difference though is that the homeless families are younger. Having a baby can stretch resources even for middle class families. About a quarter of all episodes of poverty begin with the birth of a child, so it isn’t surprising that having a baby can coincide with homelessness.

As a side note, “Nationally, infancy is the age at which a person is most likely to stay in a homeless shelter. Risk of homelessness remains high in the preschool years, when parents struggle to juggle child care and jobs, but is lower during the elementary and high school years than in adulthood.”

The three most important differences between homeless families and poor families are: (1) they have extremely low incomes, which is less than 30% of area median income (2) they have less access to housing subsidies, and (3) their social networks are not able to provide sufficient help.

So what does all of this mean? First, homeless families have far too little income to both rent housing at the market rate and provide for any other needs. Second, they many never have had the resources to rent their own place. They are more likely to have doubled up, moving frequently among friends and family to avoid literal homelessness. Finally, their community of friends and family are smaller and poorer, so they are less able to help the family prevent homelessness.

A final variation in the rate of homelessness is geographic, because of varying availability of affordable housing. For example, a high rate of homelessness in California coincides with few vacancies and costly housing.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the 2009 “housing wage” in Kansas City is $15.21 per hour. That is the hourly wage a household must earn (working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year) to afford the fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment at 30% of income. It requires 2.2 jobs per household at minimum wage.

In 2009 extremely low income in Kansas City meant the family made less than $21,120. Affordable housing should be no more than 30% of income, or $528 per month. Fair market rent for a two bedroom apartment in Kansas City is $791. A family needs to make $31,640 per year to afford fair market rent. Obviously, families with extremely low income can’t afford fair market rent.

Because there wasn’t enough affordable housing in Kansas City, about 14,000 people became homeless last year. We know there will be more this year.

Next time, I’ll share more from the brief about ending homelessness for families.

- Laura Gray

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Changing Demographics

As a staff, we discussed our midyear results on Monday. The biggest surprise was the possibility that changing demographics are impacting our transitional housing program in an unexpected way.

As I’ve mentioned before, in the first six months of this year, twice as many two parent families have been part of the program than have ever been here over a whole year. We also have had fairly rapid movement in families during the last six months. We wondered first if there was a correlation between rapid turnover and two parent families. Second, if there is, does it mean our program is not effective for fathers or two parent families?

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with rapid turnarounds. We want families to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

However, our program is built on life change, not just the removal of barriers to housing. A few weeks isn’t long enough to repair badly damaged credit, pay down debt or accumulate savings that will create stability after the family returns to permanent housing. It also isn’t long enough to build the supportive relationships that are key to permanent life change, to adopt life skills, and to change lifelong behaviors that contributed to homelessness.

So we were concerned that if two parent families leave more quickly than single parent families, our supportive services may be less effective for two parent families.

It turns out that a greater percentage of single parent families than two parent families left during the first six months of the year. Half of the single parent families left during the first six months and only a third of the two parent families left. However, the single parent families who left had been here for an average of nearly seven months. The two parent families that left stayed only about a month and a half and were among our least successful families.

Happily, none of the families that exited in the last six months became homeless again.

The program is clearly working well for two thirds of our two parent families. Our challenge is to keep our eyes open for signs that we need to adapt as things change.

- Laura Gray

Friday, July 17, 2009

From Curb to College

One of our favorite residents, Myeshia, got some great news on Monday. She got her GED!

More than a year ago she was put out of her weekly motel when she couldn’t pay her bill anymore. She and her two year old son were literally sitting on the curb with all of their belongings in trash bags. We were already working with her through our outreach case management, so her case manager called to get her an interview for our transitional supportive housing program. She had to go to a shelter first, but she and her little boy came to live at Community LINC last February.

She’s had a tough year and a half with a bitter divorce and custody battle, but my how well she’s done.

Myeshia found a job almost immediately and has methodically tackled the barriers that made life so very difficult. She paid off or negotiated down over $5,000 in debt (in part from her marriage) and she was able to eliminate the traffic warrants hanging over her head. She learned how to budget and has a savings account now. She received a certificate to participate in the Ways to Work program (an alternative to predatory auto loans for working poor families) that will help her get a car loan at a reasonable rate. She is also applying for a Habitat for Humanity house.

She walked in with a sense of personal accountability – she said that it was her own decisions that caused her troubles (homelessness). She set her goals and took advantage of the opportunity to learn new life skills. It hasn’t been easy, but she stuck with her commitment to work her program.

Her next goal is to get a better job, so she is enrolling in college this fall.

- Laura Gray

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our Little Corner of the World

A week of less than encouraging news about the slump in employment. In our little corner of the world, our supportive housing program has proven to be a microcosm of the economy when it comes to employment.

A third of our families are two parent families now. That’s a remarkable percentage for us - the highest ever in our history. Only 85% of our adults have found jobs – a requirement in different economic circumstances - and only 20% of our teens have summer jobs. In at least one two parent family only the mom had a job for several months.

In the July 7 Business Intelligence Brief from Armada Corporate Intelligence they observed that “Men have experienced this unemployment situation differently than women as two of the hardest hit sectors have been construction and manufacturing – both traditionally male dominated… There has been a sharp rise in the number of women serving as the primary wage earners in the household. This has had some social impact as well as economic…Adjusting to this new employment reality will be very hard for many people and their families.”

“The issue of youth employment will be a festering problem for years…There has been less job exposure in this group than any previous cohort as many parents have chosen to keep their kids involved in various activities while paying generous allowances. That practice has faded as the recession has deepened but now these kids are having great difficulty getting summer employment. Studies have shown that lack of exposure to the work world at an early age makes it harder to transition to the workforce later.”

“For those kids that come from lower income neighborhoods the lack of work is even more problematic. This is not discretionary money for the most part ...”

Having a home at Community LINC lessens the necessity for our kids to contribute to the household income, but we know the need is very real. The teenage son of one of our favorite graduates is deferring college to help support his family.

As bleak as all of this might sound, at Community LINC we have faith that things will get better. For the last 21 years, we’ve seen people overcome the circumstances that so many are experiencing because of the recession. In our world, personal circumstances rather than the economy pulled our families down to the bottom rung of the economic and employment ladder. Eight out of ten rebuilt their lives. Things do get better.

-Laura Gray

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hard Work and Dedication

A quick success story from our Director of Programs, Jeannine Short.

Great things are happening at Community LINC. We’re moving families toward self-sufficiency!

Take the Clegg family for example. When they came to Community LINC they were both unemployed and living where ever they could find a bed (or sofa) for a night. To make matters worse, the couple had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Imagine, an infant daughter and no place to live.

Fortunately, they were referred to Community LINC and their progress has been phenomenal!

Not only are they gainfully employed, but they are also pursuing other educational interests that will supplement their income. Too, they are within weeks of obtaining permanent housing.

This family is a testament to what hard work and dedication can bring!

- Laura Gray

Monday, June 22, 2009

Community LINC delivers an amazing program of change for our families. The thing that enables us to deliver that program is our volunteers. We have an incredibly diverse number of ways that volunteers can be involved with Community LINC. One of the best parts of my job is being able to offer a volunteer opportunity that matches almost everyone’s interest. Whether someone wants to work with children, or redecorate an apartment, we can accommodate you.

Repeatedly I witness the level of time, resources and giving that our volunteers offer to Community LINC, and it never ceases to amaze me. We had a little girl ask all of her friends to bring presents to her birthday party—not for her, but for the children in our program. Awaken KC, a participant in the Project Change Corporate Team Challenge, spent three months this spring donating their time and materials to us in order to build a new teen center, community garden, and to host a pasta night with custom made cookbooks for our families. Lee’s Summit United Methodist Church repainted all of our front doors and parking lot stripes on a muggy Saturday morning. Alcatel-Lucent landscaped the front of our buildings, planting rose bushes and donating stone benches.

These examples do not even come close to touching all of the work that our regular Tuesday and Thursday night Program volunteers put in each week, or our devoted Board, or our Apartment Teams who clean, paint and redecorate every apartment each time a family moves out.

I am reminded everyday about the power of each person’s caring and loving and how much that can impact all of our lives. I am always overwhelmed by the family of Community LINC volunteers. You truly amaze me.

Thank you.
-Cecile Denny, former volunteer coordinator

For more information on volunteering at Community LINC, please feel free to contact

Friday, June 12, 2009

Falling Up

I just came back from a great meeting with the grants committee of a corporate foundation. One of our residents came along to tell her story to the group. We thought it would help them see the person rather than the statistic.

She was amazing.

I don’t know that I could share my feelings so openly with such poise.

She was so careful in her decisions in her life. She made a conscious choice not to get pregnant growing up, although her four closest friends did. She got an education and became a teacher. She felt called to minister and began working in substance abuse counseling. When she moved to Kansas City, she continued the counseling work. She met another counselor and married after a careful, thoughtful courtship.

She did all the right things, and, yet she became homeless.

She became homeless because she decided to leave an abusive marriage saddled with the debt. She lost not only her marriage, but her support system because of her choice. The feeling of loss clearly still pains her.

She shared other feelings, too. The joy she felt when she moved into her apartment after being homeless. At seeing her little boy’s bedroom decorated with her favorite character – Winnie the Pooh. At the friends she has made, the emotional support she has received, at her success in the program.

She has paid off $5,000 in debt, which she negotiated down from $10,000. She gets up every morning at 4:30 AM to study to take her LSAT. She wants to become a lawyer and someday a judge. She’s in a home ownership program and will raise her son in a home of their own.

She is amazing.

She felt like she was falling down for a while, but, through grace, she’s falling up now.

The foundation called less than an hour after our visit to tell us that they will fund the grant.

-Laura Gray

Friday, May 29, 2009

A HEARTH For the Homeless

On May 19, both houses of Congress passed S. 896, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, which included the HEARTH Act as an amendment. President Obama signed the legislation into law on May 20. The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (or HEARTH Act) reauthorized HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs. The importance to the families we serve is that the act:

  • "Increases priority on homeless families with children, by providing new resources for rapid re-housing programs, designating funding to permanently house families, and ensuring that families are included in the chronic homelessness initiative.
  • Significantly increases resources to prevent homelessness for people who are at risk of homelessness, doubled up, living in hotels, or in other precarious housing situations through the Emergency Solutions Grant program.
  • Continues to provide incentives for developing permanent supportive housing and provides dedicated funding for permanent housing renewals.
  • Modestly expands the definition of homelessness to include people who are losing their housing in the next 14 days and who lack resources or support networks to obtain housing, as well as families and youth who are persistently unstable and lack independent housing and will continue to do so."

from the National Alliance to End Homelessness Summary.

-Laura Gray

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gertting Past Their Breaking Point

Jeannine Short, our Director of Programs, shared a story of promise for a new family making a home at Community LINC:

The Holman family came to Community LINC in April 2009. Originally from Indiana, the family moved to Kansas City after losing their jobs and eventually their home. Like so many others in their situation, the Holman’s doubled-up with relatives and began the daunting task of finding employment and regaining stability.

Discouraged by repeated rejection from potential employers and disheartened by growing tensions within the crowded household, Mr. Holman made the decision to move to Arizona in pursuit of an employment opportunity. Leaving his family behind in hopes of creating a better future for them, he was once again met with disappointment. At their breaking point, the family heard about Community LINC. When informed that they had been accepted into the program, Mr. Holman broke into tears exclaiming how happy he was to be given the opportunity to provide stability for his family.

Today, the Holmans are gainfully employed and working hard to address and remove their barriers to housing. Not only are they actively engaged in the Tuesday and Thursday night programming, but they also offer their time to help around the community on their days off. In addition, they are very positive role models and take advantage of every opportunity to perpetuate a sense of community.

It’s been tough along the way, but the Holmans are well on their way to a very bright and stable future!

-Laura Gray

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Point in Time

Each year Community LINC takes part in a “point in time survey” of the homeless in Kansas City. It’s a count of homeless individuals and families both in shelters and on the streets.

The preliminary estimate was that on one day (January 27 this year) there were at least 2,655 people, including 715 children, homeless in Kansas City. In past years, before the economic downturn, about 15,000 people became homeless over the course of the year. There are an unknown number who are not counted in the survey. These are the homeless who couch surf with families and friends or stay in a weekly motel.

It makes me realize that our goal is for homelessness to be just a point in time for the families in our transitional housing program.

Right now, half of our families were raised by grandparents or other relatives. Like foster kids who age out of the foster care system, these young parents have no one left to fall back on. They didn’t have families or friends to give them a place to stay when they became homeless.

We can see the impact of the downturn in the economy in a lot of ways. Today, there are 64 families on the waiting list for an apartment. A surprising 30% of our families are two parent families. In a typical year, less than 10% of the families have two parents. We are also seeing more families from situational poverty rather than generational poverty.

We will help most of our families ensure that they don’t become homeless at any other point in time. We will provide about 36,000 bed nights this year. The average family will stay for 7 months. What they learn while they are here will ensure that, for at least our two year follow-up period, more than 8 out of 10 will not become homeless again.

-Laura Gray

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What Happens to the Kids When a Family Becomes Homeless? Part 1

My mother saw a news story the other day about a family that was about to lose their home. What stuck with her was how stressed the children were. The child being interviewed was worried about her mom and dad and scared because she didn't know what would happen to her family.

The 120+ children who will make their home at Community LINC this year went through that and then some. The child in the interview worried what would happen to her. It did happen to our kids.

So what is it like for the children when the family becomes homeless?

They will probably live in several places. In some cases, the family will separate or even dissolve.

First, they may “double up” and live with relatives. When the relatives get tired of having them, they may start sleeping in their cars or at campgrounds. Their parents may send them to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life. If the family is large, they will have to split up. Most emergency shelters can only handle families with a couple of kids. Once they go to a shelter, they have to adjust to an overcrowded, uncomfortable setting with no privacy.

Homeless children endure a constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences that have a profound effect on their development and ability to learn. They get sick more often than other children. Violence plays a bigger part in their lives.

But it gets better. The children at Community LINC are lucky relative to other homeless kids. They have a safe, stable place to stay while their parents get on their feet. They find friends and a group of adults who care about them. They get the support to catch up academically and they learn the lifeskills they need to succeed in school and eventually at work. They come to believe that they can have a better life.

In the words of some of our children:

A teenage boy: “Two years with Community LINC helped get my mother, little brother and I back on our feet and a second chance in Kansas City. While opening doors to a better life, Community LINC helped with my driver’s ed. class and my true dream career. I’m now in my last year of school, graduating as one of the top in my class. I still have my family. I work at my job of three years as a waiter and am now working towards getting a car and looking for money for college.”

Another teenager: “I am going to be a person who fights for what’s right. I am a person who believes in the law. If you have not guessed, I plan to be a lawyer.”

A girl in grade school: “Before we came to Community LINC, I struggled because I saw my mom crying because we did not have anywhere to go. I have a better life, a great life because of this program. In five years, I will be in school, a home and (will be) thinking about my past. I will live great. I (will) work all over the world.”

A boy in grade school: “Before I came to Community LINC I lived with my dad and my struggles. I didn’t have anywhere to live. Now, I am a person getting stronger and I am working on making myself better."

- Laura Gray

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Giving Hearts of Project Change

A beautiful thank you from our Director of Facilities, Robert Ontman, to the Awaken KC team of Project Change.

"I just wanted to share my personal gratitude and appreciation. In my many years of working with charities, churches, and volunteer groups, I have never seen such a well planned and committed effort. The team has taken the worst and roughest areas of our facility and transformed them into beautiful sanctuaries that will serve our families for years to come.

They took a dark and dismal basement with a ruined floor and completely redid the floor, walls, d├ęcor- everything at considerable time and expense. It has been masterfully crafted into our teen center and is now in use to prepare our teens for a better future as they learn job skills, work ethics, spiritual growth classes, financial management and many other life skills classes that will break their cycle of poverty.

Their other project took a muddy field and created a vibrant rain garden complete with decorative stone walk way, drainage away from our buildings that were getting flooded, and a rain garden too peaceful to describe. All of this tells our beleaguered and down-trodden families that they are loved and that there is hope- without which they can never even attempt recovery back out of homelessness.

The Awaken K.C. team took the biggest group of volunteers that I have ever seen from every walk of life and from diverse jobs and organized them into a well prepared, hard working, cohesive unit. They even smiled all the way through and enjoyed their work. They enjoyed each other and the task at hand. They literally worked through snow storms and rain storms- excelling through every challenge that emerged.

I cannot think of a more dedicated or thorough group that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Many thanks to Kate Wind, Randy Huber, Michael Hurd, Tim Parks, Patty Kruger, Melody Meek, Kelly with A L Huber, SFS Architects, Western Fireproofing, Lafarge Cement, Wallace Engineering, the gardening companies and so many more. You all have gone well beyond anything that we could have hoped or dreamed for. Please come again."

-Laura Gray

Friday, April 17, 2009

Reaching Out - Removing Roadblocks

We do an outreach to families that receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), but are out of compliance with the requirements for the assistance. Our role is to help the parents remove the barriers (e.g. transportation, childcare) that keep them from keeping a job or getting the training they need to become self-sufficient.

Last year, we helped 69% of our TANF clients find a job, go to training or get off of TANF cash assistance.

Frenchie Pulluaim, who works both with our resident families and the TANF families, observes:

We see first-hand how families are being impacted by the current economic situation. Resources are not readily available, because there are too many families applying for basic services. Agencies providing services are stretched to their limits as middle income families find themselves competing with lower income families for jobs, utility assistance, career readiness classes, legal assistance, and counseling.

The work we do with homeless families is priceless training for recognizing the barriers that must be addressed to prevent these (the sanctioned TANF) clients from becoming homeless.

Although times are hard and economic issues are weighing heavily on families at all levels, it is important that case managers help families in seeing the options and opportunities that will get them through these hard times.
-Laura Gray

Friday, April 3, 2009

Graced by the Amazing People We Server

Some of our residents are amazing.

Our Program Director, Jeannine Short shared this story with me yesterday ...

Cynthia is a single mother of four children who entered our program in April of 2007. Due to complications arising from a high-risk pregnancy, she was unable to work after her short-term disability ran out. Consequently, Cynthia lost her job and within two months the family became homeless - evicted from their apartment.

After she entered Community LINC’s Supportive Housing Program, Cynthia was able to get another job, although she barely made above minimum wage. She had more than $5,000 in old debts, which presented a significant barrier to getting her own housing. She also was forced to postpone plans to get a secondary degree. Undaunted and determined to put the pieces of her life back together, Cynthia held herself accountable and worked the program with unrivaled zeal and fortitude.

Cynthia has more than double her income, retired more than $4,000 in debt and amassed over $3,000 in savings. This week, Cynthia and her four children moved to permanent housing - a four bedroom ranch-style home.

If Cynthia’s performance as a resident is any indication of her determination, we can be certain that she will get that degree, as well!

-Laura Gray

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Driving to work one day last week, I was mulling over all of the people whose lives have been changed by the current economy - by being downsized, laid off, or just plain let go. The resemblance to what has happened to so many of our residents felt very vivid to me.

When you lose something like a job, hope is central to whether you despair over the future or believe that things will get better.

It's apparently the same for the economy. Hope is vital to our ability to recover.

Fortunately, as economic hope returns, businesses will recover and most people who have lost their jobs will find other ones. Their lives will be restored.

It strikes me that Community LINC is a microcosm of what happens at the poorest end of the economy all of the time. Our families have lost a lot. They have lost not just their jobs, but their homes, and, because they were homeless, sometimes even their children. Faith and hope are necessary. We need them both to recover from loss and rebuild lives.

-Laura Gray, March 29, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One Day at a Time

One of our residents, Shirelle, came into my office last week to thank me for the car she was given. A donor gave us the car and we used some emergency funds to get it inspected and licensed so that she didn't have to clean out her savings.

I obviously hadn't given it to her, but she needed someone to thank. She wanted someone to know what it means for her and her son.

Having the car cuts her two hour daily commute in half. She does home health care and she was taking the bus from one client to the next. It limited her to only a couple of clients. The car also means she can go to an AA meeting every day on her lunch now. She'll mark her two year anniversary being clean and sober this summer. She goes for herself, for her 16 year old son, and for the people that she wants to encourage at the meetings.

Her thank you was one of those inspiring moments. Shirelle is taking her life back and she's making a better life for her son. He's a talented kid who has a much better future because of what his mom is doing.

- Laura Gray, Mar 25, 2009