Interfaith Housing Coalition
It’s ladies like Kimberly Williams, CEO of Interfaith Housing Coalition, who so graciously remind me that the small things we can do – give up one cup of coffee a week – really do make a difference.
Photos by Matt Wills
The website of Interfaith Housing Coalition states that its goal is to “do more than provide the transitional housing that helps homeless families survive.” Could you elaborate on some of the core programs that empower these families and allow them to do more than just “get by?”
One of the key things to keep in mind is that Interfaith exclusively serves working poor families. There are three primary segments of the homeless population. You have the chronically homeless who may struggle with mental illnesses or drug addictions and often require some type of long-term or permanent support to help them overcome their challenges. Then, there are the generational poor who have typically relied on some type of government assistance for their livelihood. If for some reason those funds are reduced, they may find themselves homeless. Finally, you have the working poor, who typically work an average of 50 hours per week to support their families, sometimes with two part time jobs. Whenever any type of crisis strikes, they can easily find themselves in a very difficult financial situation.
By exclusively serving the working poor, we have been able to tailor our program to help our families become self-sufficient. Our programs are designed to follow our simple formula for self-sufficiency: stability + self-worth + skills = self-sufficiency. The housing is the first component. Of course if you’re homeless, you need a place to stay. So, we provide that as the first step in the process. Every family has their own full-furnished apartment. From there, what really transforms our families’ lives is the opportunity to stop and think about where they want to be in the next five years and what they need to get there. Our counseling and case management services help with that. After which, they enter our career development program to discover how they can go from making minimum wage to starting in a career that provides an opportunity for advancement. Sometimes, this is the first time our clients ever really got to think about what they’re good at, what their interests are and what they do well. From there, they meet with our Career Services Manager and design a plan to get started on their career. After that, it’s all about learning prepare for a better financial future through financial literacy training. So every week, our families meet with volunteer budget mentors who help them address their current financial challenges like reducing debt, eliminating the payday loans that they may have, and saving money through their 40% savings requirement.
Usually homeless families are transient moving from friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor, and house to house. That really interrupts their child’s education process. It’s no wonder 75% of the kids who enter Interfaith are behind one or more levels in reading or math. Our wonderful children and teen programs address their emotional challenges through play therapy and character development and we also address academic issues via tutoring and other programs. In all of these programs, our volunteers provide everything from weekly budget mentoring to tutoring and play an extremely important role in our clients’ transformation.
I can imagine there must be many challenges you face on a regular basis in accommodating these families and meeting their needs. What are some of the major ones and how do you deal with them?
Fundraising is always a major challenge. It’s really expensive to run a transitional housing organization where you don’t charge rent or utilities. We are blessed to have a good grant program and we also have wonderful volunteers who produce great special events. But, the real cornerstone of our funding structure will require the support of individuals. We are really looking for families to sponsor families and individuals to sponsor individuals at basic increments. We really want to build our monthly giving program by encouraging people in the community to sacrifice. It’s really about doing the little things like sacrificing one coffee a week and taking that money and donating $25 a month to help a family achieve self-sufficiency. We need more people who are willing to make small sacrifices to support families that are struggling in the community. With the working poor families in particular, the return on investment is great when you think about fighting poverty.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
After spending almost 20 years in the nonprofit sector, it is easy to become skeptical regarding whether or not real change can occur. Now, the giving community is also wondering if it does occur, will it have a long-term impact? So one thing that I hope to accomplish is to inspire more nonprofits to become more performance-focused. Our work has the power to make a positive change in communities that we love. To make that change, we must focus on making a real difference that can be both measured and tracked. Only then, will nonprofits like Interfaith be empowered to provide a real return our donor’s investment and make a change for the good. I honestly believe that smart people and caring people come together with the purpose of not just helping people achieve long term success, we can make a real, lasting difference. To do that, we need to bring our full selves to the table – mind, body, and spirit. If all those three things work together, I think we can see a huge change in our community. That’s what I’d like to leave.1