Archives for "Housing"

Giving to close Boston’s opportunity gap

Earlier this week, the students in my Nonprofit Giving course at Framingham State University held a ceremony where they honored the work of the Boston-based nonprofit Bridge Over Troubled Waters. They awarded the organization a $10,000 grant to support its vast array of services and supports for the city’s homeless youth.

The overarching goal of the course was for students to see how giving can enable low-income people to access greater opportunity. The class invited local nonprofits to apply for funding that the Learning by Giving Foundation has generously donated to the university. Created by Doris Buffett, this foundation annually supports 40 experiential philanthropy courses at colleges and universities across the U.S.

At the beginning of the course, the class read my book Giving Hope: How You Can Restore the American Dream, which offers hands-on strategies for how giving can fuel opportunity. Then, they crafted a grant application, researched local nonprofits, and invited 20 of them to apply for funds. Students subsequently evaluated the 16 grant proposals we received. Lengthy discussion produced the list of four that received site visits (see prior post), and even more intense deliberation preceded the final vote. The students had the option of splitting the Learning by Giving grant in half, but the majority preferred to give it all to one organization.

At the grant ceremony one of my students, Dan, commented that “since the beginning of the process Bridge Over Troubled Waters was one of very few organizations that had strong support from a majority of the class. The organization offers countless services that include, but are not limited to, counseling, high school equivalency and career development, the mobile medical van, runaway services and a transitional living program. The organization addresses a group typically invisible from mainstream media but that deserves to have the opportunity to be upwardly mobile and should be near the forefront of national attention: homeless adolescents.”

Kudos to my students for selecting such a worthy organization to support!

The Final Four

Even though winners of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were crowned this week, another Final Four is just beginning to heat up!

The students in my Nonprofit Giving course at Framingham State University have $10,000 to give away, thanks to generous support by the Learning by Giving Foundation which annually sponsors 40 experiential philanthropy courses at colleges and universities around the country.

Early in the course, my students read Giving Hope: How You Can Restore the American Dream, which familiarized them with how giving can enable low-income people to access greater opportunity. Then, they researched Boston area organizations that appear, at least from their websites, to be doing similarly promising work. As a class, we decided to invite 20 to apply for funding, and received 16 grant proposals. Students have spent the past two weeks discussing the nuances of these proposals, and have narrowed the pool of applicants to four, each of which we’ll be visiting in the next two weeks:

  1. Friends of Boston’s Homeless
  2. Bottom Line
  3. Key Program / Children’s Charter
  4. Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Our first site visit is to Friends of Boston’s Homeless this afternoon. Once we’ve done all four site visits, then comes the BIG DECISION – where to give the $10,000.

Stay tuned for details!

Ending Homelessness in New Jersey

On March 25, 2014, three staff members of Monarch Housing Associates, along with other advocates to end homelessness from across New Jersey, had the opportunity to help shape the state’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.  The State Interagency Council on Homelessness held a public hearing that gave testifiers the opportunity to make recommendations to the Council.

About 60 individuals attended the hearing, which was held at the NJ State Museum Auditorium in Trenton.  They addressed Council members including the State Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable and Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez. 

Many of the speakers referenced proven strategies for preventing and ending homelessness in their recommendations including

*Housing First
*Rapid Re-Housing
*Centralized/Coordinated Assessment Systems
*Public Housing Authorities Prioritizing Homeless Households

Monarch Housing Associates is a mission-driven, results-oriented nonprofit located in Cranford, New Jersey.   Monarch works statewide with the vision that everyone will have quality, affordable, permanent housing that fosters freedom, independence and community integration.  Our mission is to expand the supply, accessibility and variety of affordable, permanent supportive housing through development, planning, advocacy and partnerships.

Monarch develops partnerships with public-private entities and the non-profit community through our mission driven programs focused on Ending Homelessness, Housing Production. and Public Policy.

Click here to read more about the hearing and testimony.

Ending Homelessness: It Won’t Seem Impossible Once It’s Done

GUEST BLOGGER: Joe Finn, President & Executive Director, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance

Organization logo


“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” After the death of Nelson Mandela, I lost track of how many times I heard this quote of his being used in every imaginable context. Although I have yet to discover its original usage, I cannot help but believe this phrase truly reflects the values of a person wholly committed to hope for change shaped by truth and justice. We use this phrase as we remember Mandela because it speaks volumes to those who approach their life, their community, and their world from a perspective that suggests that positive social and economic change is a real possibility.

Ira Silver’s book Giving Hope: How You Can Restore the American Dream testifies to a number of organizations across the nation who use their resources to give hope at both the personal and social levels. Although such “hopeful” nonprofits exist in the area of homelessness, housing, and poverty, organizations that struggle with these issues are not immune from a banal and insidious form of despair – a despair that does not focus on change, but instead attempts to reinforce the status quo.

Unfortunately, these voices of despair – too often prevalent in discussions about homelessness – are frequently shaped more by institutional and organizational needs than by the common good or the best interests of those they aspire to serve. These voices would argue that the “emergency” shelter is an acceptable urban housing niche providing custodial care to a subpopulation somehow deemed “not housing ready.” Overcoming the present reality of homelessness, some say, is impossible.

But it is not impossible! Every day, organizations across the nation are demonstrating that ending homelessness is indeed very possible. However, it does demand a form of hope that does not place organizational and institutional needs ahead of the individuals these organizations serve. Rather than rushing in with pre-formulated responses, these organizations listen to the needs being expressed by homeless individuals and ask the difficult question: what change is necessary here to produce a different outcome? We are grateful that Dr. Silver tells these stories of hope and possibility.

Years and years of sheltering have not ended the scourge of homelessness. Yet, many cling to the idea that emergency shelters are necessary, unavoidable, and the best we can do under the circumstances. To me, this is the voice of despair posing as hope.

We know housing works. We know that we can respond to poverty in a way that will end our gross reliance on warehousing people. We know homelessness can be ended. At the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, we are committed to doing just that. We will not rest until we have drastically reduced the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ reliance on emergency services and converted resources to the provision of appropriate housing and services for all people.

It won’t seem impossible once it’s done.


Ounces of prevention in the fight against homelessness

GUEST BLOGGER: Linda Wood-Boyle, President & Executive Director, HomeStart Inc.


Providing opportunity for all can be a tough task when addressing homelessness. But organizations across the United States, and here in Massachusetts, have found success in ending homelessness through creative thinking. As an agency that has worked with homeless families and individuals for 20 years, we recognize that one of the most creative solutions to ending homelessness is to stop it before it started.

Ten years ago, HomeStart, Inc. became one of the first agencies in Boston to focus on homelessness prevention. At the time, there wasn’t much we could do to help families and individuals on the precipice of homelessness until after they were already in shelter. We recognized, however, that it didn’t make much sense to wait until people had entered the system to help them if there were ways to offer them effective assistance while they were still housed.

Thus, our homelessness prevention program was born. It has been incredibly successful in keeping people out of the shelter system and lowering taxpayer costs. We strongly believe it could be even more effective if resources were available to help people long before they are living on the edge.

In the decade since we began providing homelessness prevention services, we’ve learned how much more cost-effective it is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place than it is to help house them after the fact. Consider these facts: the Commonwealth of Massachusetts spends $30,000 every time a family enters the state family shelter system, including resources spent on shelters and motels, and $2,000 per month per bed in the individual shelter system. According to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, in December 2012, there were 3,800 families with children and pregnant women in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program. You can do the math – $30,000 times 3,800 families. Failing to prevent people from falling into homelessness is expensive for the Commonwealth, and not in the best interest of those families to be in shelters or motels.

In contrast, HomeStart has helped almost 3,000 families and individuals in the 10 years we’ve been doing this work. Our average cost is $1,500, which includes emergency rental assistance and administrative costs. In fact, in assessing a pilot program we are pursuing with the Boston Housing Authority, we estimate that we reduced the number of forced evictions by 61 percent, which saved the city and taxpayers more than $360,000 in eviction costs alone.

There are always more people we can help who are living on the edge, but as we are looking to the future, and where our resources can best be applied, we think it makes sense for agencies like HomeStart to direct our attention to individuals and families long before they reach the crisis stage. As an agency, we provide stabilization services to people coming out of shelter and living in transitional or permanent housing. Doesn’t it make sense to provide families in crisis with those kinds of services before they are on the verge of eviction?

The federal government, through the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), has put a lot of effort into applying the principles of Housing First to chronically homeless individuals. And by most accounts, including through the experience that we have working with the chronically homeless at HomeStart, it has been a success. By providing men and women who have struggled to remain housed with wrap-around services in addition to their housing, we have seen a significant number of individuals successfully break the cycle of chronic homelessness. It may be time to apply a similar level of care and assistance to those who are near homelessness, but haven’t quite reached crisis stage yet.

We know prevention works. In a strange way, we can tell through the absence – the absence of individuals and families who we see in shelter once we’ve successfully prevented them from entering the system or the absence of phone calls and requests for assistance we receive from them once we’ve helped them avoid homelessness. But we can also tell by how cost-effective it is for the Commonwealth and its taxpayers. As we look to the next ten years and to the creative solutions we need to provide opportunity for all, it makes sense to apply what we’ve learned to help people before they even get to the immediate crisis stage. By doing so, we’ll be proving once again that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – in this case, the pounds are measured in stable lives and lower costs.

Making housing affordable

Summer is a good time for catching up on TV programs accumulating on the DVR.

“60 Minutes” segment I watched recently chronicled the sights and sounds of bulldozers at work in Cleveland.  Houses were being razed in neighborhoods that just a few years earlier had been vibrant and thriving.  This effort was purportedly aimed at “bettering” these neighborhoods, which had become blighted due to the large number of foreclosed and subsequently abandoned homes.

Is this really a sign of progress in mitigating our nation’s housing crisis?

Other efforts also taking place in Cleveland offer considerably more reason for optimism.  Consider the work being done by the Famicos Foundation, which provides access to affordable housing and works to enhance neighborhood quality without using bulldozers.  The organization both facilitates real estate development and delivers services to improve youth education and literacy.  Famicos owns and manages over 800 units of housing for families, seniors, the disabled, and formerly homeless individuals.

If 60 Minutes wants to get the full scoop about housing initiatives being undertaken in Cleveland, it should point its cameras at the work Famicos is doing.  Learn how you can help this important cause.

Helping Neighbors Help Themselves


Now that we’ve heard the rallying cries from both candidates and we’ve seen just how divided the two parties are, it’s clear how much the nation needs a unifying change agenda.


We’ll have to look outside politics to find one.

Here’s an agenda around which democrats and republicans should be able to agree: Helping Neighbors Help Themselves.  Those four words have guided the work of Neighborhood House for over a century.  This Portland (OR) nonprofit is a resource for low-income people and recent immigrants, enabling them to overcome the challenges in their lives that impede their attaining success and independence.

It’s a soup-to-nuts organization that offers programs for young children, teens, families and seniors.  Head Start, employment assistance, transitional housing — these are just some of the many ways this organization makes sure that no stones are left unturned in helping vulnerable people to access greater opportunities.

Declining public funding means Neighborhood House depends on private donors now more than ever.  Contribute online.
* $50 can provide a term of after-school tutoring for two youth.
* $100 can provide four sessions of employment counseling.
* $250 can provide a month of guidance for at-risk youth.
* $1,000 can purchase 5,000 pounds of food to feed the hungry.

The organization also needs volunteers.  If interested, please fill out an application.


The dignity of having a roof above

There is no greater affront to the American dream than not having a place to call home.

Since 1984 Shared Housing Center has offered solutions to people in Dallas experiencing the indignities of homelessness.  Whether they are single parents with children, those with special needs, or the elderly, the organization offers both transitional and permanent housing as well as services that enable recipients to become more independent.

It offers two types of programs:

*Homeshare — People in need of affordable, shared living arrangements are paired with people who own their housing but who require companionship, special services, or rental income to remain there.  Learn more.

*Transitional housing — This program offers housing for 12-18 months to homeless single parents with young children as well as older adults.  Residents also receive case management, mental health counseling and children’s programs. Learn more.

Want to get involved?  Consider becoming a volunteer or making a donation?

A winning story in Pittsburgh

The Pirates are the rage in Pittsburgh this summer and are well on their way to their best season in 20 years.

But they’re not the only winning story in town.  The players will do just fine regardless of the team’s success.  For many others in Pittsburgh, however, getting ahead hinges on receiving help.

ACTION – the Allegheny Council to Improve Our Neighborhoods – is an organization that offers such help.  It provides access to decent and affordable housing to enable low-income people to become more secure and self-sufficient.  ACTION also offers support services, an asset building program, and educational and employment opportunities.

Check out the array of development projects the organization is undertaking across Pittsburgh.  Learn more about its recent work to revitalize the Uptown neighborhood.

If you are interested in making a donation, you can do so here.

In St. Louis the road to opportunity starts at home

There is only one nonprofit in the St. Louis area that provides acccess to affordable housing as well as an array of other educational and employment services to needy families: Beyond Housing.  As its name suggest, the organization sees housing as a first step in community-wide rebuilding efforts.

An exciting part of its current work is the “24:1 Initiative,” an effort by elected officials, residents, community-based organizations, and area businesses to revitalize the 24 inner-ring suburban communities located entirely or partly within the geography of the Normandy School District in St. Louis County.  These communities are coming together with the shared vision of strengthening neighborhoods.  The 24:1 Initiative was featured in a 2011 White House report.

Want to be part of the solution?

Beyond Housing has an array of volunteer opportunities, many of which do not require special skills.  These include cleaning, repairing, painting, and landscaping homes. Learn more about these opportunities.  You can also donate online.