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