Making an Impact: Achieving Financial Stability

Having the necessary skills to maintain financial stability and stable housing is imperative to having a strong and healthy life.  By increasing these skills and supporting crucial needs, our efforts are lifting families out of poverty and preventing issues before they grow into larger community-wide problems.  Thanks to our generous contributors, United Way of Whatcom County’s Community Impact Fund is increasing financial education so that individuals and families can achieve stability and independence.
The entire community benefits from families and individuals who achieve financial stability and safe adequate housing. Without a home or financial stability, individuals are more likely to engage in crime and risky behaviors and are more prone to illness.  According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, individuals who are homeless spent an average of four days longer per hospital visit than comparable to non-homeless individuals. This extra cost, approximately $2,419 per hospitalization, is attributable to the issues and conditions that the individuals are facing due to lack of adequate housing.  The cost of a prison bed in state or federal prison can be between $30,000 - $90,000 per year.  Keeping people off of the streets, away from crime, and into a stable lifestyle is crucial to creating a safe and healthy community for us all.
Approximately 719 people in Whatcom County are homeless. Throughout the year, hundreds face the prospect of losing their homes due to precarious financial conditions, domestic violence, health crises, and chronic mental health and chemical dependency conditions.  That’s why United Way’s Community Impact Fund is investing in programs and solutions to increase stable housing and
financial literacy.
Sun Community Services, a United Way Community Impact Fund supported program, helps individuals who are homeless and mentally ill with their housing needs, teaches skills on living safely and successfully, and they help clients transition to permanent, affordable housing within 90 days.
“Each person at Sun House has a support plan which targets the removal of barriers to permanent housing,” Executive director, Denise Rosenstein said. “The Support Plan is an action plan that guides who, what, where, when, and how barriers will be removed. Sun House teaches people independent living skills, tracks appointments, monitors medications, and provides 24 hour staffing support.”
At the Sun House, financial goals, if identified as a need, are addressed through the support plan and individualized to the client’s needs. Typical goals include: applying for SSI, taking a financial literacy course, developing and following a budget.
“While at Sun House, the risks to the community are greatly reduced, and by transitioning our clients to their own homes, often with on-going support, the community benefits from reduced crime and health risks,” Rosenstein said.
The Opportunity Council (OC) helps people achieve housing and learn to become self-sufficient.  They offer a scope of services that range from addressing immediate and crisis-oriented needs (food, emergency shelter, eviction-prevention) to longer-term programs that promote self-sufficiency in our community (early childhood education, home weatherization).  United Way’s Community Impact Fund supports three programs at the OC that all work to support basic needs and keeping or achieving stable housing,
Meetings with clinets are used for creating individualized short and long term goals, reducing barriers to housing, accessing credit reports, budgeting, accessing or visiting other service providers, life skills education such as parenting or conflict resolution, creating systems of organization for daily living and other forms of personal and family growth development. Case management services help clinets to problem solve, priortize, stabilize and work towards future plans.
Housing participants have access to the services of the Whatcom Asset Building Coalition (WABC), another United Way supported program.  Bank on North Sound, an initiative of the WABC and twelve local financial institutions, help participants obtain an entry level or second chance checking account.  Money saved from using a checking account vs. high cost financial services like check cashing can be used to meet basic needs or build savings. The WABC also facilitates the On the Money financial education series.  This series of five classes covers topics such as budgeting, prioritizing spending, debt, bankruptcy, credit, avoiding banking fees, and addressing finances in crisis.
Anjali Englund, the Outreach and Development Coordinator, recognizes the difficulty that these problems bring. “There is always a need for increased funding and affordable housing to meet the demand for housing in our community,” Englund said. “Currently, there are 329 households experiencing homelessness on the community’s coordinated waiting list.  We strive to look for ways to continue to provide quality case management and employment services and expand our housing services to serve more households.”
Their programs play an important role in preventing households from becoming homeless and in reducing the number of individuals and families who are homeless in our community.  In 2012, Opportunity Council served 636 households with housing and case management services. 88% of households exiting the program in 2012 obtained or maintained permanent housing.   “We engage community partners from banks and credit unions to provide financial education and services to help lift people out of poverty,” Englund said.
The PAD (Positive Adolescent Development) is a residential staffed home housed at Northwest Youth Services for runaway/homeless teens.  This United Way Community Impact Fund-supported program has bed space for six 13-17-year-olds at a time for up to 21 days. There is an end goal to advocate for and work with the teen at reconnecting with their family and community. NWYS provides a safe home for runaway or homeless youth with a bed and provisions, intensive case management, life skills classes, and supportive services.
“We teach valuable life skills such as cooking, cleaning, interpersonal and communication skills and much more,” Donor Relations Coordinator, Tammy Do said. “We encourage our teens to develop confidence and independence so that they may present themselves well to landlords and be successful if living with roommates.”
Their Vocational Readiness program focuses their efforts and resources on supporting their clients to achieve and maintain sustainable employment and become self-sufficient. They offer individual case management, a youth summer jobs program, a job networking club, GED courses and a seed-to-market garden education and employment preparedness program.
The PAD is the only shelter for minors available in Whatcom County. Their program provides a stable environment where youth can feel safe and have their basic needs met. By taking these preventative measures, our community becomes a safer place to live and work and our youth transition into strong contributing members of our society.
We are all interconnected.  When an individual or family is struggling it affects our tax system, general quality of life, housing costs, crime, health epidemics, and so much more. That’s why one of the focuses of United Way’s Community Impact Fund is on affecting stable Income because if families are achieving financial stability and Whatcom County residents are healthy, then the community will grow and improve together. Your contribution to our Community Impact Fund makes this possible and that’s what it means to LIVE UNITED.

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