Friday, February 28, 2014

It is getting better

By CEO/Executive Director Laura Gray
Off and on since the beginning of the year, I’ve been setting up our data analysis spreadsheets for 2014. So, I thought I would share some of the trends we were able to see within our world of homeless families.
First, because it’s very good news, we nearly doubled the number of homeless families who left for permanent housing last year.
That translates to 75% leaving able to provide permanent homes for their children. Plus, 97% did not return to homelessness on the streets or shelters.
Less than 1/4 of the adults were employed when they entered the program in 2013. About 2/3 of those who exited were employed. Their average wages increased from $3,600 per year when they entered to $15,000 by the time they exited.
As you might guess, the average wage wasn’t enough to raise a family of three above the federal poverty level. Even with some form of public assistance, the average total income of $16,500 for a household was not enough to reach the poverty level of $19,530 for a family of three.
But, it was encouraging to see nearly 40% of our families leave above the poverty level. That’s the highest level since 2007 when 48% left above poverty. Not surprisingly, more than half of the two parent families but less than a third of the one parent families left above poverty.
What the data tells us is exactly what we read about the economic recovery. Things are getting better… slowly. But, it’s slower for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Intake matters: Tough choices

By Intake and Resident Specialist Holly Gardner
Recently I screened a family into our program. Ms. M. is a single mom with twin 15 year old teenagers, a boy and girl. She has a long list of issues that contributed to her homeless situation, but by far the most challenging was living with her ex who is a serious substance abuser. There were many low points as her relationship crumbled away, both financial and emotional. She stuck things out for as long as she could, but could no longer tolerate the impact these behaviors were having on her teens. Her daughter is a serious student and seemed to cope in healthier ways, but her son was more vulnerable. He ended up running with a bad crowd. He made some poor decisions that got him in to serious trouble.
Mom and the teens are more stable now.  She managed to keep her job through her trials and tribulations. Her daughter continues to thrive at school and her son is hopefully learning some hard lessons. Happily, he is physically separated from people who were not such a good influence.
As this mom was moving in and getting settled, she shared with me she had 2 pups, family pets that also became homeless with her.  She was lucky enough to have relatives and some friends she met through shelter who could provide them homes.  However, her luck and time had run out for her pets. Soon after she moved in here, the lady keeping her pups told her she would have to make other arrangements or take them to an animal shelter. This is what she shared with me one evening this week that got us both tearing up. These pups have been through so much, and as hard as she tried she could not get her own place in time to keep them. She had to take time off work to get her pups to the animal shelter where she met a wonderful woman who stated she would work hard to find good homes for her beloved dogs.  The dogs were very well behaved and had an excellent chance to have a new home and family.  This was the very best she could do for them, as she scaled her life back more and more to accommodate her reality.
These are just some of the hardships this family has endured and example of tough choices that had to be made so that this single mom could navigate her new life.  As she walked through the lobby and down the hall way to meet with her family coach, she smiled a big smile and said, "I know my pups are in a warm safe place for now, I don’t have to put anyone else out and someday I will have a home of my own again."
Yes, there are obvious issues our families have had to make - tough choices to help themselves move forward and meet their goals.  Sometimes these choices impact their pets, which are most definitely members of their families. This is a reminder to me sometimes we have to let go to maintain and to grow.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Aftercare Matters: Seeing In the Dark

By CTI Case Manager Sara Barrett
So often in social work, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day aspects, such as paperwork, number-crunching, funding and reports. While all of those things are necessary and important to ensure best practice and accountability in agency spending, I can quickly lose focus on what my true role is in my work when I am in the middle of those things. More often than not, it is my clients who remind me why I am here, in my current role, today.
Last week I was meeting with a single father who graduated from the on-site program several months ago. He is two decades older than me, with more life experience than I could ever dream to think up. When I first began Aftercare Services with this man, I thought to myself, “We have every odd against building a rapport with one another-difference in age, generation, race, lifestyle, background. Really, what do I have to offer this person? What is my degree really worth?” During our first meeting, we discussed his lifelong journey through drug use, violence and “running the streets”. He shared how it impacted his children and how it’s led his life to the point of homelessness on more than one occasion. Our goal of the meeting: to determine which part of that lifestyle he could let go of today to keep his newly acquired job and pay his gas bill. He said, “I am seeing I can’t do both, I have to pick a side.”
Four months later, our meeting consists of discussion options for his 401K Retirement Plan, including a consultation with a local financial coaching agency and the “proper” way to inquire about information needed from Parent-Teacher Conferences. I reminded him of our first visit, and how different our conversation was today, versus four months ago. We laughed and joked about the difference. I asked him, “What was it, at your age, that finally made you feel strong enough to make the choice to create something new? To do life differently?”  He said, “I didn’t know this could be me,” pointing to his 401K enrollment sheet. “I didn’t see this, but you saw it, Community LINC saw it. You guys have never lied to me, so I just decided to believe it too. I couldn’t see a different future that I had never known before, so I had to see what Community LINC saw, and then it came true.”
At the end of the day, after the reports are submitted and the money is balanced; after the case notes are completed and the phone calls are made, my role is clear. It starts with believing the best in and for the people we serve; seeing them beyond their circumstance, and even maybe beyond decades of a lifestyle that has been detrimental to their well-being. If we don’t believe it for them, how can they believe it? I am continually challenged  and renewed in this work by the resilience of the human spirit, to overcome all odds and the humbleness of my clients. It is light in the darkness.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Therapy Matters: "So This is What normal Feels Like".

By Therapist David Simpson
Last year, I began working with a pleasant and polite young man who found himself very confused/conflicted and saddened by the circumstances of his young life.

The young man had very limited friendships of his own age due to the homelessness he and his family frequently experienced.  The client had no significant male role models and his family dynamics were very skewed, not allowing him to genuinely develop a sense of self or healthy self-esteem.

This young person was on the verge of developing a significant chronic depression. The client was initially (by his own admission) hesitant to engage individual counseling. Yet, he was active in attending his individual counseling sessions, exploring/expressing thoughts, concerns and “secrets” he had held onto throughout his childhood.

He would often say with a smile “so this is what normal feels like”.

Although the counseling sessions were limited as a result of the family’s length of residence at Community LINC, he was able to confide, trust and accept support, guidance.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Volunteering Matters: Home is where the heart is

By Volunteer Coordinator Kate Nevins
Each month Community LINC tries to bring in a group of compassionate and caring volunteers in order to host a weekend project. This month we were lucky to be having the girls of Delta Sigma Theta Cotillion Group, a youth development and scholarship program co-sponsored by the Kansas City, Missouri Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
The girls will be helping our newly arriving families feel more at home by prepacking bathroom kits with all the necessary essentials, as well as decorating and filling fun Children’s goody bags with small toys, games, and books. It is important that our families feel comfortable at Community LINC as they begin creating new memories and living their lives.
The girls will also be creating a creative bulletin board for our entry way inspired by our Housing Specialist, Tammy Mayhue. Since finding permanent housing for our families is such a significant part of the Community LINC mission, the girls will be crafting a board with houses and keys in order to motivate and inspire our families to look forward to a bright and fulfilling future!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jobs Matter: "I Got My Dream Job"

By Employment Job Coach Constance Taylor
I remember my first conversation with Mr. U He had just moved to Kansas City from New York and he was facing many unresolved issues concerning his diabetic eleven year old daughter.  Although he trained with a school bus company for almost three months after coming to Kansas City, he was told he was ineligible to be hired.  His employment history was very spotty with large gaps and no high school diploma or G.E.D.
He remembered working for a car rental company as a detailer and truly loved it, so he asked about the possibility of landing a job like that once again. He applied to several car rental companies, but didn’t get any responses.  It had been five years ago since he worked as a detailer and his references were  no longer be available.
He switched his search to jobs as a dock worker  and received several  invitations to interview.  The work hours wouldn’t work either due to transportation or having to leave his daughter home alone during the evening.  He even had some interviews look promising right up to the point of hiring, when the interviewer would ask, “By the way, do you  have your G.E.D.”?
Finally, the call we had all been waiting for came. It was from the first application he completed seeking a job as a car detailer. He answered their additional questions and went in for an interview. He was hired for the position! It was exciting and scary all at the same time. Who would have thought that the first application would be the one that landed him his dream job. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Program Matters: What about people who aren't chronically homeless?

Jeannine Short, Sr. Director of Programs and Operations
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) categorizes homelessness as either 1) chronic—defined as unaccompanied homeless individuals with a disabling condition who have been homeless for at least one year, or have had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years; or 2) non-chronic--the adverse.
Since 2003, HUD, along with four other federal agencies, have implemented initiatives with the very specific objective of creating permanent housing opportunities for chronically homeless persons. At an estimated cost of $52 million, the overarching aim is to get the chronically homeless housed as quickly and permanently as possible by providing rental subsidies and supportive services.
While HUD has done well to expand its definition of chronic homelessness to include families that have at least one family member with a disabling condition, it still excludes homeless families who do not meet this criteria. Too, with the release of the recent NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability), HUD’s intent to allocate the majority of its available funds to programs that serve the chronically homeless is becoming increasingly evident.
The future plight of non-chronic homeless families is unclear at this point, but communities would be wise to begin strategizing now. Perhaps applying the principles inherent to HUD’s mandate to create coordinated homeless services systems is the answer. Perhaps not. 
What is clear, however, is that non-chronic family homelessness is a reality that will not simply go away.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Housing Matters: Gratitude

By Housing Coordinator Tammy Mayhue
Anthony and Sharron A. became homeless after losing their jobs. Mrs. A said that when she was told about Community LINC, she thought she was entering another shelter with lots of rules and no resources to help them change their living situation.
Since Mr. A is a veteran, we began by helping him apply for a housing program through Veterans Administration. After being informed he needed to have been homeless for a longer period of time, he was denied. So, we went about helping them find housing. After receiving several housing referrals, the family was approved for a four bedroom house that was in their budget.
The A family worked together as a team. Despite setbacks like the denial by the VA, they remained positive during their stay. Throughout their time on campus, they said ‘Thank you’ over and over again and made sure the staff understood how grateful they were to be here and have this opportunity. Mr. A stated there should be more assistance for housing like Community LINC.
Families like the A’s are reminders of why I enjoy helping others and that Hope is within arm’s reach if you have a plan.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Children Matter: A Young Man Reaching His Goals

By Children’s Program Director Ryan Blake
A few months ago, I began working with a teen who was a senior in high school. The young man explained to me that his family had moved several times during the year and his school attendance was very poor. He also admitted that sometimes his poor choices caused him to miss school. Although he was a very intelligent student, his grades continued to suffer. It began to look like he wasn’t going to have enough credits to graduate this year.
He came to me with what he thought was a great idea “I’m going to drop out and get my GED”.  We spent some time talking about the pros and cons of a high school diploma compared to a GED.  We talked about his future and what he wanted to do with his life. He left the conversation unsure if he should drop out or not.
Not long after our conversation, he moved with his family into permanent housing. I hadn’t heard from him in several weeks until one day he came back to Community LINC to tell me that he found out his grades were going to be good enough to graduate in May. It was one of the happiest moments I have had at Community LINC.
However, this is not where the story ends. Yesterday, I received a message saying that he had been accepted into a state university where he will be attending college in the Fall. I can’t wait to hear what else the future has in store for this young man.