Monday, December 27, 2010

A heart for homeless children

The picture makes me think of the MasterCard commercials. Cost of a wellness clinic $XXX. Difference it will make – priceless.

About two years ago, pediatrician Dr. Raymond Cataneo (cutting the ribbon) came to us with an offer for our children. He had volunteered at Community LINC and could tell by observing our kids, that they showed signs of health problems common to homeless children – asthma, diabetes, overweight due to poor nutrition, etc. He offered to create a free clinic to give our children a medical home while they are residents and after they leave.

For most of our kids, the only medical care they receive is at the emergency room. They are covered by Medicaid, but their parents have no insurance at all. That, and the instability of homelessness, doesn’t lead to good medical care.

So we wrote a grant and made the case for creating a wellness clinic and other things that would dramatically improve things for our kids.

We thought our funder would be a church or a civic group, but we were turned down by two. Our eternally optimistic Associate Executive Director Teresa McClain kept searching until we finally found our funding partner in an unexpected place - a corporation with a heart for homeless children – Humana.

Humana provided the funding to build and stock the clinic, to refurbish our children’s centers, build an indoor play area in the basement of one of our buildings, and pay a part time staffer for the Children’s Program.

Shortly afterward, a second funding partner stepped forward to let us know that, at the end of 2011, they would provide the funding to keep the clinic and the Children’s Program going. This time it was the generous and caring congregation of Second Presbyterian Church. They earmarked a percentage of their capital campaign to go their missions work in the community.

We’re very grateful to all of these caring people and to all of you who have a heart for these children.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jobs are fundamental

We've been watching the number of families who have left the transitional housing program for permanent homes decline over the last two years. To figure out why, Senior Director of Programs and Operations Jeannine Short compared the characteristics of the people who succeeded in transitioning to permanent homes to those who didn't, including their self-sufficiency assessment scores. Not surprisingly, she pinpointed unemployment as the most important factor in the decline.

We knew that unemployment was keeping people from "working the program" and it goes without saying that unemployed people aren't likely to get permanent housing.

Jeannine's study revealed that 100% of the families who exited successfully to permanent homes in 2009 and year-to-date in 2010 had jobs. Only 20% of the families who left without a permanent home had jobs. Their stays were also much shorter –13 months for those who exited successfully compared to less than 5 months for those who did not. Our residents don't always have marketable skills and they are competing for jobs with many others who do. Those who give up without a job, pay a high price for getting discouraged.

Jobs aren't the only factor that permanently ends homelessness. Financial education (budgeting), new life skills, coaching and mental health counseling all contribute to building the skills needed to stay living independently. But, jobs, like affordable housing, are fundamental.

In response, we've beefed up our job placement program by creating a computer lab where our clients can access the Internet, write resumes and get coaching (and the kids can have supervised access at night). And, we've been extremely fortunate to find that one of our interns, Norma, is skilled in job placement. In the few weeks since she took over the lab, she's found jobs for three residents we didn't think had a snowball's chance of being hired. Demand is so high, she's having to set up a schedule to accommodate both our outreach clients and our transitional housing residents. There is light at the end of this tunnel.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The federal strategy to end homelessness

The federal plan to end homelessness: Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness is available on the first page of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness website at

The key goals are to end chronic homelessness in 5 years, homelessness for veterans in 5 years, homelessness for families in 10 years and to set a course of action that will end all types of homelessness.

Locally in Kansas City the Homelessness Task Force is creating comparable strategies for ending homelessness. We’ve just drafted an outline of the plan. I’ll keep you posted when the final version is available here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why do you care?

It’s sometimes as moving to hear why a donor or volunteer cares about our mission as it is to hear about the lives of the families who have become homeless.

A first time visitor asked both the Associate Executive Director and me why we had become involved. He then shared a group exercise in a seminar he attended years ago that awakened an awareness in him. The exercise (some call it the diversity shuffle) describes a number of experiences you may or may not have had growing up. If you had the experience, you take a step forward. If you didn’t, you step back.

He looked around the room at a group of people he worked with every day and knew well. He was stunned to see that he ended up way out front.

Some of his co-workers never went to a library as a child. They didn’t have a set of encyclopedias (I’m old enough to remember an old set of Funk & Wagnalls we had in our house). In his family, everyone went to college. Even his grandparents graduated from college in 1917.

The experience opened his eyes to the advantages he had that others didn’t. More than that, he understood what others had never learned. He’s given it a lot of thought over the years and the understanding has grown into desire to offer a hand up to people who have had less.

Another donor told me that he was stunned when his first job paid him more than his single working mother made in her whole life. And, she is a smart, hard working woman.

Not everyone is smart, or educated. Not every kid was read to as a child. And, it shapes our lives.

We’re very grateful for every one of you who sees that and cares.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Less homeless, but more homeless families

Last week, Housing and Urban Development released their 2009 Annual Assessment Report to Congress. It tells the story of homelessness on one night in January of 2009 when 643,000 people were homeless. An estimated 1.56 million, one in every 200 Americans, spent at least one night in a shelter during 2009. The gist of the report is that individual homelessness is down, but family homelessness is up for the second straight year.

As a nation, we’re doing better. We shelter more people who would otherwise be on the streets. Chronic homelessness was down nearly 30% from levels in 2006. The biggest concern is for families, especially those who haven’t yet entered the counts.

From the Report:
“The long-term impacts of the recession are unclear. A recent study found a nearly five-fold increase in the rate of housing overcrowding, suggesting that many families are doubling up in response to the economic downturn. If some of these family support networks already are struggling to make ends meet, some of the doubled-up families may find their way into the homeless residential service system during 2010.

On the other hand, as the nation comes out of the recession and as the stimulus funding made available through the Homeless Prevention and Re-housing (HPRP) Program starts helping families in crisis avoid shelter, it also is possible that family homelessness will decline during the next reporting period. Indeed, as of May 2010, HPRP has already served more than 350,000 people and approximately 75 percent of the funds have been used for prevention services.”

You can find the whole report at

This week, the Obama administration will issue the first national proposal to prevent and end homelessness.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What is it like for the moms?

Since Mother’s Day is this Sunday, I started thinking about all of the mothers, especially the single mothers, who are sliding into homelessness now.

A former co-worker used to call mothers and children the invisible homeless. You don’t see them pushing a shopping cart or sleeping out in the open on park benches or under bridges where their children are vulnerable. They stay with family or friends until they’re no longer welcome. Then they sleep in cars and go to shelters.

By the time a mom moves into our transitional housing, she has lost a lot of connections - with family, friends and even service providers. Those supportive kinds of relationships are often tied to the neighborhood. It’s really difficult to maintain the crucial ties that took time to form and anchored her children’s lives.

Most of our moms feel like they have failed their children. You see it in the flat affect on so many faces when they move in.

Then, they begin to feel like their kids are safe and life is stabilizing. Their coaches and counselors connect them with services for their kids. They go to lifeskills classes and start working with a budgeter. They begin to create new relationships when they make friends with other moms who are struggling with the same experience.

They do their kids proud. 47 moms moved their children into a home they bought when they graduated from the program. Myeshia got her GED and is enrolled in college. Cindy is getting her MBA. Stephanie is going to law school next fall.

And, their kids have done them proud. Jermaine is the first college graduate in his family. Stephen is finishing his freshman year in college. Julius had his choice of colleges, but is joining his big brother Stephen. Tiffany is one of the speakers at her high school graduation and someday wants to be an attorney and eventually a judge.

Happy Mothers Day to all of the wonderful mothers who have passed through our doors. To all of the moms facing homelessness now, hold on to the hope. To quote Jermaine, “Where you are, isn’t where you’re going to be.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Miracles on Troost

One of my co-workers has long referred to our agency as the miracle on Troost. Troost is the street where our campus is located in the urban core of Kansas City. She says that the miracle is the way the lives of homeless families are transformed after being at Community LINC.

Another kind of miracle happened a week or so ago.

I spent a very stressful weekend worrying about cash flow. Our revenue has been good, but a great deal of it hasn’t been paid yet – it is pledges or receivables. When I came in on Monday, I had to borrow money to cover payroll.

On Wednesday, a man dropped into the office. The week before, he ran into a friend of his having lunch with our Associate Executive Director. Our visitor and his wife have been supporting an agency that assists homeless individuals, but they wanted to do something for homeless families. He followed the coincidence of meeting our Associate ED to learn more about what we do. She wasn’t in, so he visited with me.

He asked a lot of questions about what we do, but kept coming back to “What have you been praying for?” It was pretty easy to answer. I was praying for something to help our cash flow and cover the $30,000 deficit I was expecting in April.

He wrote a check for $30,000.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It Made Me Wonder. . .

One of our residents died last week.

She was only 27 years old - a beautiful, young mother of a nine month old daughter in a happy relationship with a man who loved her.

She had a heart condition since childhood.

It made me wonder. Did she get the medical care she needed? Did she go to the doctor? Many homeless people don’t have a doctor. They don’t get regular care. They go to the emergency room when they need medical attention.

We’re all stunned at the loss – no one so much as the father of her child. It all happened so quickly. She was here and then in a moment gone.

It made me wonder. Did the stress and trauma of being homeless shorten her life? Homelessness has a profound impact. Over 1/3 of homeless mothers have chronic medical conditions. They have three times the rate of post traumatic stress disorder and 50% suffer from depression.

It made me wonder. Would she have lived longer if she hadn’t become homeless?

- Laura Gray

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not Like Them

Senior Director of Programs and Operations Jeannine Short tells the story of Traci...

Traci and her daughter entered our transitional housing in September 2008. Prior to entering the program, she had a very lucrative career in real estate and was accustomed to providing a stable home for her daughter. When the economy began to turn for the worse and the housing market bottomed out, Traci found herself without an income and the ability to maintain the arguably lavish lifestyle she had become accustomed to. Consequently, with no income, no savings and a delay in unemployment benefits, she and her daughter found themselves without a home.

Upon entering the program, Traci admits she was challenged by the structure of the program. To suddenly be held accountable by someone else after a lifetime of self-sufficiency was more than a struggle for her. Too, viewing herself as “not like them” initially prohibited her from settling in and perpetuated a sense of entitlement. But, despite her best efforts, she struggled for several months to find employment. She was fending off harassing creditors, and as a last straw was turned down for housing due to outstanding debt. She gradually discovered that she was very much “like them”—needing the opportunity to put the pieces back together.

Fortunately, Traci was able to overcome her personal prejudices and begin actively participating in the program. As a result, she was able to find employment, settle over $3000.00 in tax and housing-related debt, obtain a license to sell insurance and move to permanent housing.

- Laura Gray

Thursday, March 25, 2010

At the Beginning of the Journey

Family Coach Frenchie Pulluaim shares how a mom used our transitional housing to give her children some stability and security after a year of chaos.

"Carrie and her family came to Community LINC from the City Union Mission Shelter. Carrie lost her job and struggled for a year - moving from family member to family member to friends. She finally decided to go into a shelter to keep her family together. Carrie has been job searching, but stable housing will make it more likely that she will become self sufficient.

Her goals are to gain full time employment and permanent housing. The children are in school and doing well, she is hoping that stable housing will help the children to feel secure and safe."

- Laura Gray

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Hand Up

Federal stimulus funding enabled us to implement a Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program targeted to prevent and quickly end homelessness for families impacted by the downturn in the economy. By definition, if not for this funding, the families served through the program would stay or become homeless.

From HPRP Case Manager Travis Beye:

A couple with four young daughters had been evicted from their home and were living in a homeless shelter. The mother was employed, and the father, who had lost his job due to medical reasons, was recovering and looking for new employment. The couple had located a rental house that would accommodate their family and that was within their budget. They were able to pay the security deposit, but needed assistance with the first month’s rent, after which they would be able to maintain their rent on their own. Their need was urgent, because they were about to reach the end of their allowed stay at the homeless shelter and they did not know where they would go. They also were afraid that the landlord of the house they planned to rent would become impatient and put the house back on the market.

The family met with Community LINC’s HPRP Case Manager to determine their eligibility for HPRP. They qualified for because they were experiencing an episode of homelessness but could also show that, with some assistance to get back on their feet, they would be able to maintain housing on their own.

After working with the landlord to enroll in the program, HPRP made a payment of the first month’s rent, allowing the family to move into a stable home. Realizing that the family had no furnishings for their new home, the HPRP Case Manager was able to work with Church of the Resurrection’s Furnishings Ministry to have beds, tables and chairs, dishes, kitchen items, furniture and even a television donated to the family. Since moving in to their new home in mid-December, the family has been able to follow their budget and maintain their rent and other necessary payments on their own.

- Laura Gray

Monday, March 8, 2010

Paying it Forward

I’ve always described the impact of providing an apartment in our transitional housing as being the gift of as a safe, stable place to live after being homeless, but last month our residents showed what it brings out in them as people.

After the Haiti earthquake, as the residents discussed the tragedy during a class session, one person after another expressed gratitude for having a safe, secure place for their families. That sense of gratitude lead to “what can we do for the people in Haiti.” They collected $161.00 for earthquake relief and are sending it to the American Red Cross.

Having their need for shelter met made it possible for them to see beyond themselves to the needs of others.

Their generosity is inspiring.

- Laura Gray

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Homeless in This Economy

At the end of January, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City published their Low- and Moderate- Income (LMI) populations Survey. It confirmed what we’ve observed among our homeless residents – that it’s taking much longer for them to find jobs, both because there are fewer jobs and because they are competing with more qualified people for low skills jobs.

From the survey: “Unemployment, lower incomes, lack of insurance and poor housing choices were commonly cited factors impairing recovery in the LMI community.”

". . .Survey results suggest that job prospects for the LMI population continued to decline in the fourth quarter, as most respondents reported that fewer jobs were available for LMI workers than in the previous quarter.

Survey comments offered that one factor curtailing job recovery in the LMI community is the employment of relatively high-skilledworkers in the low-skilled jobs that often were taken by LMI workers prior to the recession.

Respondents also reported that many of those finding jobs were earning less pay than before, putting continued strains on household budgets. Respondents observed that the unemployed in the LMI community were remaining jobless for longer periods of time.”

The next survey will be published in April. Hopefully, there will be some signs of the recovery.

- Laura Gray

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Success - spdated

I wanted to update you on a family whose story I shared several months ago.

Stephanie became homeless in 2008.

She was unemployed when she came to us from a homeless shelter, but she had been actively looking for a job. She found a position at childcare center and was rapidly promoted to Administrative Assistant and Spanish Curriculum Director.

Stephanie was able to negotiate down and retire $10,000 worth of debt to become debt free by the time she left Community LINC in December. She took advantage of a federally
funded IDA program through USBank that helped her save by providing matching
funds. Her IDA funds can be used to fund her education or homeownership.

While she was here, she got up every morning at 4:30 to study for the LSAT. She wants to become a lawyer and someday a judge. She just took the test.

She also has been accepted into Habitat for Humanity housing and is currently working with NACA, one of Community LINC’s partnering agencies, to finance her new home. Her goal is to raise her son in a home of their own.

Thank you for caring about what happens after someone becomes homeless.

- Laura Gray

Monday, February 15, 2010

Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

Senior Director of Programs and Operations Jeannine Short observes:

We have historically defined success by such factors as the number of life skills classes attended, the amount of money saved, the amount of debt retired, and the number of housing and economic barriers removed. While these are all good measurements of success, we are becoming increasingly convinced that success is really in the eye of the beholder.

Monique and her 3 children entered Community Linc in May 2009 after years of physical and emotional abuse and its resulting cycles of homelessness and instability. Unemployed and extremely unsure of who she was or what she wanted to do, she admittedly got off to a very slow and rocky start. However, after much encouragement and support from her coach, she was able to begin the daunting process of putting the pieces of her family’s life back together. She eventually obtained employment as a Concession Stand Supervisor and began saving money toward her future… for the first time in her life.

Although Monique hit some rough spots during her time at Community LINC and left the program prematurely, she considers her brief journey a success. In her exit interview, she expressed how thankful she was for all that she had gained—namely, her sense of value, self-worth and self-confidence. In addition, she learned the importance of setting goals, taking responsibility for her choices, and putting the needs of her children above her need for (costly) companionship--all of the ingredients for living a life of independence and self-sufficiency.

- Laura Gray

Monday, February 8, 2010

Leaving the Nest

Some observations from Senior Director of Programming and Operations Jeannine Short:

I remember studying in elementary school about the process that nestlings (particularly baby eagles) go through when preparing to leave the nest. Fledging, as it’s called, is the development of the feathers necessary for flight. More generally, however, it is the development of enough independence to leave the nest. Ask any baby eagle, and I’m sure he’d say that the first flight is absolutely terrifying. In fact, in some instances the mama eagle has to actually push the eaglet from the nest. But once the baby catches the prevailing wind, he’s able to soar to a life of independence.

The process isn’t much different for our residents—minus the feathers of course. For many of them, the structure and accountability provided through Community LINC’s Supportive Housing Program has given them the sense of safety and security that they have needed and perhaps secretly longed for. Consequently, when the time comes to leave the program there is often much trepidation.

Admittedly, it is not terribly unusual for a resident to sabotage their program by making choices that could very possibly result in an early and unfavorable exit. After all, being asked to leave and possibly failing is much more palatable for them than choosing to leave and possibly failing.

The converse is the resident who attempts to prolong their program by such methods as missing housing appointments. For this group, however, a gentle nudge is usually all it takes for them to flap their wings and fly. Like the baby eagle, they may initially stay close to the nest with frequent calls and visits to their former coach, but once they catch the prevailing wind they are off and soaring to a life of independence and self-sufficiency.

- Laura Gray

Monday, February 1, 2010

Community as Crime Fighter

Two officers from the Central Patrol Division of the KCMO Police Department visited last week to tell us about a service called Crime Free Multi Housing at

Although we’re in the urban core of the city, we have had very few incidents on our campus. The biggest things in the last 3 years were some kids broke a window and stole snacks, a former resident left a window open so that he could come back to sleep in his old apartment, and a yelling match in the parking lot.

We’re fortunate.

The biggest reason for that good fortune is that our families become a community while they are here (and even after they leave). In police terms, the community provides the natural surveillance that helps prevent crime.

They may have never known their neighbors anywhere else they lived, but here everybody knows everybody else and all the children. They attend classes together, their kids play together on the playground, and they babysit for each other. They begin to watch out for each other and for all of the children.

Friendships grow between our families and the volunteers who work with them. We have volunteer budgeters who still meet with the family they worked with years ago. One volunteer takes the child of a former resident when she takes her own kids to do something fun. Another volunteer took the son of a former resident to college.

It has become a community of people who look out for each other. It’s community in the best sense of the word.

- Laura Gray

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dangers of Hypothermia for the Homeless

“The National Coalition for the Homeless has just released its report, Winter Homeless Services: Bringing Our Neighbors in from the Cold, to raise awareness of the dangers and often fatal consequences of hypothermia on people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Seven-hundred people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States. Forty-four percent of the nation’s homeless are unsheltered. From the urban streets of our populated cities to the remote back-country of rural America, hypothermia - or subnormal temperature in the body - remains a leading, critical and preventable cause of injury and death among those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.”

The report concludes that “The Homeless service providers and governments have the responsibility to protect their homeless citizens through state- and city-wide winter plans and increased shelter availability. An exemplary winter shelter would be open 24 hours each day between October 1 and April 30, regardless of temperature, as well as any other days during the year when the temperature falls below 40o F. It would also admit all homeless people, regardless of sobriety status or past bans, unless they are violent or causing an extreme disturbance.”

Our resident families, thank heavens, are not at risk for hypothermia. They live in their own apartments. But, like most cities, our emergency shelter providers struggle to meet the need when the weather turns cold. The newly formed Homelessness Task Force is tackling similar issues for Kansas City.

- Laura Gray

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Another Family's Success Story

The end of last year marked the "graduation" of several families to permanent homes. Our Senior Director of Programming and Operations, Jeannine Short, shared one of those success stories with me this morning.

Jimi and her four children entered our program in March 2008 as a result of prolonged homelessness. Prior to entering the program, the family was living doubled up with relatives. However, when things became too crowded and chaotic, she and her children were asked to leave. With no income, a limited and sporadic employment history and several housing evictions, she was forced to move her family into a shelter.

Motivated by desperation, Jimi made application to Community LINC and was accepted into the program. Upon entering, she immediately set about the task of breaking old patterns, establishing new patterns, learning new skills and positioning herself to adequately provide stable housing and a bright future for her children. She obtained employment at Westin Crown Center, enrolled in Penn Valley’s Business Administration program and retired approximately $3500 in old debt.

More than a year later, Jimi has seen first-hand what diligence and consistency can accomplish. Not only has she successfully completed our program, but she remains employed full-time with benefits, is continuing to work on her college degree, has retired all housing-related debts, and has transitioned to permanent housing.

- Laura Gray