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WOMEN’S HOUSING COALITION WORKS TO BRIDGE DIGITAL DIVIDE

WOMEN’S HOUSING COALITION WORKS TO BRIDGE DIGITAL DIVIDE

The Women’s Housing Coalition provides permanent, affordable, service-enriched housing to women and families experiencing homelessness. WHC started serving Baltimore since 1979, and the program has grown from a small group of living units to four single room occupancy (“SRO”) buildings housing over 100 residents, and a portfolio of additional scattered site housing units to serve additional individuals and families. 

When distance learning was mandated in Baltimore City in March because of the pandemic, WHC knew it was imperative to find family’s devices and Internet access for the students in our program. Witnessing all the ways lack of Internet access negatively impacts our residents throughout this pandemic has been a harsh reminder that bridging the digital divide must become a priority to organizations like ours who provide direct services. One of our smaller SRO buildings, The Linden House, houses several of our families with children who needed devices and access to a Wi-Fi signal strong enough to allow all of those devices to operate optimally at the same time. To serve this particular need in time for the start of the 2020-2021 school year – which returned to distance learning – WHC had The Linden House wired for high-speed Wi-Fi access, and acquired devices for all the students in our program. 

We are extremely grateful to Dachon Carroll, the case manager for the families at the Linden House. She worked tirelessly to get devices for all our students in that building. Additionally, she got devices for students in our scattered site units as well, navigating all kinds of hurdles and red tape. The level of care and service she provides our residents is outstanding, and exemplifies what we mean when we speak of the “service enriched housing” we offer our residents. We also want to thank Tommy Watkins of Ur Camera Guy, who wired the Linden House location quickly and effectively to allow those residents to have Wi-Fi in time for the start of the school year. 

It is our plan to continue to prioritize digital equity by seeking out funding to wire our remaining SRO buildings so that they too can have high-speed Internet access. This will greatly enhance the quality of life for our residents – they will be able to more easily apply for jobs, to apply for benefits like unemployment, to take online courses, to bank online, to order prescriptions, or to have doctor’s visits via telemedicine. We look forward to the day when the Women’s Housing Coalition will be able to give all those we serve access to the technology that is so important in this day and age. 

Case Manager Dr. Ernestine Brown

Case Manager Dr. Ernestine Brown

We are so thankful for our case managers and how they support our residents. Dr. Ernestine Brown, a.k.a. ‘Dr. Ernie B.’ Dr. Brown has been with the Women’s Housing Coalition (WHC) since June of 2014. She is holds a Doctorate of Ministry, Master of Divinity and Bachelors of Mental Health Administration. She has shown a passion for helping others in every aspect of her life, both professional and personal.

She provides case management services and support to individuals who were homeless who are managing various life challenges from mental illness to drug addiction, as well as ex-offenders. She meets with clients, performs a variety of assessments, and helps residents develop individual service plans. Dr. Brown also performs room inspections, safety, and security monitoring, oversees the property management, and helps residents’ access community-based services.

Dr. Brown’s career before WHC has been filled with advocacy and community outreach roles. She is the founder of the Sister to Sister, Heart to Heart Ministry. She sponsors workshops, conferences, and women’s retreats that bless many. Dr. Brown is also the Founder and Director of “The Source” a ministry to those who are in transition from any unhealthy lifestyle to a spiritually-based one. The Source provides resources and supportive living housing to persons who are in recovery and experiencing life transformation through a more robust spiritual life. This ministry touches the heart of those who have been abused, rejected, neglected, and thrown away. Additionally, Dr. Brown is the proud mother of three (3) Shaina, Craig, Jr., and Craig V. She has two granddaughters Ayanna and Shailyn.

The Housing First Approach

The Housing First Approach

Housing First is a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness. This approach is based on the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before addressing anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.

Though support services are offered, Housing First does not require people experiencing homelessness to address all of their problems including behavioral health problems or to graduate through a series of services programs before they can access housing. The Housing First approach views housing as the foundation for life improvement and enables access to permanent housing without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter.

The Housing First approach is rooted in these basic principles

  • Homelessness is first and foremost a housing problem and should be treated as such ·
  • Housing is a right to which all are entitled 
  • Issues that may have contributed to a household’s homelessness can best be addressed once they are housed
  • People who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness should be returned to or stabilized in permanent housing as quickly as possible without  preconditions of treatment acceptance or compliance for issues such as mental health and substance use 
  • The service provider working with the individual should connect the client to robust resources necessary to sustain that housing, and participation is achieved through assertive engagement, not coercion  

Housing First aims to solve the biggest issue, which is not having a home, and then provide services to tackle the other issues. This new approach to homelessness became popular in the 1990s. Baltimore first tried it in 2005 believing that you don’t need to fix the problems that caused homelessness before placing someone in a home. This is contrary to the longstanding belief that a person had to prove they were sober and enter into programs before being offered housing. 

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Studies have shown that:

Rapid re-housing helps people exit homelessness quickly

A variety of studies have shown that between 75 percent and 91 percent of households remain housed a year after being rapidly re-housed.

Clients using supportive services are more likely to participate in job training programs, attend school, discontinue substance use, have fewer instances of domestic violence, and spend fewer days hospitalized than those not participating.

Finally, permanent supportive housing has been found to be cost-efficient. Providing access to housing generally results in cost savings for communities because housed people are less likely to use emergency services, including hospitals, jails, and emergency shelter, than those who are experiencing homelessness. 

Housing First is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Then, it provides supportive services and connections to the community-based support people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness. 

Who is at Risk for Being Homeless?

Who is at Risk for Being Homeless?

Everyone is feeling the impact of COVID-19. For some of us, it means learning to be more patient with kids at home, managing the stress of working at home or feeling isolated. For many, the loss of income and the financial demands of day to day life has them facing a bigger crisis. In 2019 Forbes magazine reported that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. 

The loss of a family income by death, illness, or unemployment can easily create instability and lead to homelessness. This is exactly what happened to one of our residents. 

Christine was married for 32 years and often feared what would happen if her husband were to become unable to work. When her husband passed away her worst fears became a reality. “Me, my husband, my two sons, and my grandson were all living in the same home. I knew that if something happened to my husband that we wouldn’t be able to afford rent. He was really sick, and that’s what happened.”

After 3 years of moving from motel rooms, shelters, living with relatives, and even living in her storage unit she found stability and a fresh start at the Bennett House. “Once I got that key in my hand I said ‘nothing is ever gonna be the same’ and it hasn’t. That was three years ago. I’m ready to get out there and do it on my own. With my husband, I was with him for 32 years, I never had to pay a bill. Once I got here it taught me the responsibility of, you have to pay your rent, you have to buy your own food. I’ve learned how to budget my money…”

Our staff works hard to make sure we give our residents not just a roof over their heads, but the right support to learn skills that will empower them to work and live independently of the Women’s Housing Coalition.

“To me, WHC has been the greatest experience of my life. And I’ve had some good experiences and I’ve had some bad; this is the greatest. It helped me plant my feet and it gave me stability. I’ve grown a lot and I’ve learned a lot.”

With the staggering current unemployment rate, the threat of becoming homeless seems closer than ever for many people. The US Labor Department said that the economy shed more than 20.5 million jobs in April, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent — devastation unseen since the Great Depression. 

Just like Christine, many people are facing these uncertain times with the fear of becoming homeless. Addressing the problems facing our homeless population and supporting programs like the Women’s Housing Coalition is more important than ever before as we expect these rates to soar.

COVID-19 Surges Among the Homeless

COVID-19 Surges Among the Homeless

To combat the spread of COVID-19, physical distancing measures are being instituted around the world. For the homeless population, orders to stay home are impossible to meet. For those experiencing homelessness and insecure housing, safety measures are not only out of reach, but they’re also not an option. People experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, including individuals and families, are paying an especially high price. 

With social services stretched thin and businesses shuttering, rather than keeping people away from shelters, the virus has driven many in as they search for support. Globalcitizen.org explains the problem saying, “Once there, they’re met with perfect conditions for the rapid spread of the coronavirus: overcrowded and sometimes unsanitary conditions, surrounded by others who have come in contact with hundreds of people prior to entry, with the added risk of pre-existing conditions.”

While total prevention is impossible, major cities around the world are scrambling to lower the risk of widespread outbreaks and preventable deaths. Low income and homeless people, who are already high-risk due to limited health care, are now also faced with a lack of funding, medical resources, and staff to care for those who become sick. 

One of their biggest challenges is not being able to adhere to the recommended 14-day isolation period. With nowhere to isolate with mild symptoms or having a place to stay after leaving the hospital. This vulnerable population is putting themselves in danger and increasing the risk to others. 

Some doctors are trying to combat this by admitting patients who have manageable symptoms they would usually send home, but they fear the impact it will have on their staff and resources.  A San Francisco doctor tells STAT, “I’m not someone who says that I won’t admit people to the hospital who have nowhere to go. The issue is that we are using up things that we are going to be facing shortages of,” such as hospital beds, personal protective equipment, and health care workers.

COVID-19 is shining a light on the ongoing issues cities face with caring for their homeless and poverty-stricken citizens. It is even more important than ever to support organizations like the Women’s Housing Coalition as we continue our fight to end homelessness and provide stability for families and individuals.  

Anti-discrimination Bill Helps More People Find Affordable Housing

Anti-discrimination Bill Helps More People Find Affordable Housing

Maryland lawmakers passed legislation in March that makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on how they pay their rent, including the use of government housing vouchers.

With housing vouchers, the federal government provides funds to state and local agencies to fill the gap between what families can afford to pay and local rents. The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is the nation’s largest rental housing program, serving over 2.2 million households. These programs only work if landlords are willing to accept the subsidies and rent to voucher holders. 

Federal law does not prevent landlords from rejecting all housing vouchers so a growing number of states, like Maryland, have enacted laws, known as “source of income” protection laws, that can increase voucher acceptance. These laws prohibit discrimination based on income sources such as alimony, disability benefits, and housing vouchers.

This Bill will add “source of income” to a list of prohibited forms of housing discrimination that include race, religion, gender identity and disability. It will effectively ban landlords with three or more properties and management companies from having policies excluding tenants who use government assistance, such as Housing Choice vouchers, commonly known as “Section 8.”

Voucher holders are often seen as undesirable tenants by landlords and, therefore, denied the opportunity to rent homes and apartments. This is a huge win for those who use vouchers to create an affordable housing option for themselves and their families. 

More available housing options can mean a greater overall satisfaction with a person’s neighborhood and quality of life. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, “While many voucher holders begin their housing searches with similar aspirations and priorities, those who locate in higher-opportunity areas are significantly more likely to realize their neighborhood preferences and goals—and they are happier with the quality of life in their communities. Families who located in higher-opportunity areas were no more likely than those who located in lower-opportunity areas to report that their children had difficulty adjusting to the neighborhood following their most recent move.”

With unemployment rates skyrocketing and many people facing financial uncertainty affordable housing is more important than ever and bills like these will help ensure stability for individuals and families.

Finding Permanent Housing in Baltimore

Finding Permanent Housing in Baltimore

There is a long waiting list of people who are in need of permanent housing. The Women’s Housing Coalition works with Baltimore City and local landlords to help serve as many individuals and families as possible. In addition to our Single Room Occupancy buildings, the Women’s Housing Coalition works with Baltimore City and local landlords to fill units in what we call our “scattered sites.” 

Whenever we have a vacancy in our units, we contact this City who sends over the person’s name who is seeking permanent housing and at the top of their waitlist. We work with the potential resident to find everything they would need in a home. There are many factors we consider when finding a place for a new individual or family to live. This includes, whether they are able to use stairs, how many children they have, how many bedrooms they need, what school district they need to be a part of, whether they need to be close to a certain bus line, if they need to stay away from a certain area due to their past, and anything else they may need when considering where they want to live. Once we get all of this information, we look for open listings throughout the City and find 2–3 apartments or rowhomes that meet every need they have specified.  

Once the resident makes a choice on which unit they like best, we begin to work with the landlord.  We explain our program and how we work closely with each resident to meet certain goals. WHC then signs the master lease for the apartment and subleases it to the new resident. We do this so that the resident cannot be denied the rental based on income qualifications. The unit is then subject to an inspection by the City and once it passes, our new resident(s) can move in.   

Every scattered site resident is encouraged to attend programming at our buildings and form relationships with our other clients. We are also there to help with children, creating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to hold the children accountable for their schoolwork, and attending any meetings at the school that the parent and child would like support with. Scattered site residents are also required to meet with their Case Managers twice a month in order to stay on track with meeting their goals, just like those in our buildings. 

The Women’s Housing Coalition has been serving Baltimore for 40 years and will continue working closely with Baltimore City to gain more sites and help more people.  We need your donations more than ever to serve our residents in this uncertain time. You can make a $50 donation and feed an individual for two weeks or a $100 donation and feed a family for two weeks.

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WOMEN’S HOUSING COALITION WORKS TO BRIDGE DIGITAL DIVIDE

An Interview with Jane Harrison

The Women’s Housing Coalition is celebrating 40 years of helping to create stability for individuals and families. Our success in serving Baltimore is thanks to the founders, like Jane Harrison who also served as the first Executive Director. Our founders were women who saw a need in our community and pulled their talents together to create a solution. After a personal tragedy, Jane Harrison felt called to do something different with her life, something more “socially conscious,” and she threw her energy into women’s housing. Her passion has led her to become a well-known advocate for supporting women and ending homelessness.

When asked what she thought had contributed to so many women participating in WHC over the years Jane responded, “The backdrop was the energy which emerged as WHC was a fledgling women’s movement gaining momentum in the early 1980s. Issues which were labeled ‘women’s issues’ were coming into being as areas for improvement, and there was a growing articulation among women and women’s groups. The striking issues at the time – which produced a lot of outrage – were domestic violence and homelessness. Until that time, homelessness was seen mostly as an issue of vagrant men. These are the things that brought women together.”

“Advocacy brought the first dedicated group of women together who founded the Women’s Housing Coalition in 1980. The unifying force that kept us together was that each of us was witnessing, in our daily work, growing numbers of women without homes, without any means on which to live, very often in poor health, both physically and emotionally, and frequently at risk for violence and certainly contempt from passersby. Working with then Delegate Anne Perkins, we helped shepherd the very first state funds to establish a women’s shelter, created in the downtown Baltimore YWCA. Thereafter, over the next few years we established and ran three transitional houses for homeless women in west Baltimore and pursued a dream of establishing Maryland’s first Single Room Occupancy. The dream finally came to fruition in the early 90s with the opening of the Calverton on 25th Street in Baltimore.

“I keenly remember when working in one of our early transitional houses an incident that will be forever in my mind. I had invited one of our residents, a former librarian who struggled with mental illness and had become homeless, to testify in Annapolis about her experience of being unsheltered on the streets of Baltimore. She willingly and courageously agreed. To my shock when I came to pick her up, her usually neat appearance was radically transformed – disheveled hair, smudged makeup and clothes askew. When I asked her what had happened, she explained that she felt that she had to look like a homeless woman in order to testify. I would not presume to interpret the multiple tragic and saddening layers of meaning exemplified by this poignant incident. We arrived at an understanding that her everyday appearance was more than fine, and she testified to great effect. I have rarely experienced such a depth of anger and sorrow that our wealthiest of nations countenances the suffering and robbing of dignity that our homeless citizens endure.”

With the framework the founders created, the WHC has been able to grow and expand to serve more people with the support of donors, volunteers, and outstanding leadership. We need your donations more than ever to serve our residents in this uncertain time. You can make a $50 donation and feed an individual for two weeks or a $100 donation and feed a family for two weeks.

The Historic Linden House

The Historic Linden House

The historic Linden House was built in 1886 and was the home of David Bachrach and his family for many years.  Mr. Bachrach was a prominent commercial and portrait photographer who built the house nearly two decades after he photographed Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg at the time of his Gettysburg Address. His brother-in-law, Ephraim Keyser, who headed the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Rinehart School of Sculpture, had his sculptor’s studio at the rear of the property, where it remains and has also been handsomely renovated. The Women’s Housing Coalition has renovated the main house and a detached former studio into five affordable apartments.

We, at Women’s Housing Coalition, partnered with Episcopal Housing Corporation to renovate this Reservoir Hill landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Linden House allows Women’s Housing Coalition to provide housing and work with five women and children who were homeless who want to take control of their lives and need help to lead stable lives for the rest of their lives. The home has been reconfigured, with four affordable apartments in the main residence and another in the Keyser sculpture studio.

The house was designed by the prolific Baltimore architect George Frederick, who gave us our City Hall and many other landmarks, including St. James the Less Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore. A large handsome late 1880’s wooden structure, this house is 6,200 square feet, including the backyard art studio. Its sheer size, nearly twice the size of other Baltimore homes in the area, contributed to its list of vexing rehab issues. Normally we build in brick, but the house was built of wood covered with wood siding. After years of sitting abandoned, the wood rot was considerable. “It was in horrible, horrible condition. Nobody knew what to do with it,” said Mark Sissman, director of Healthy Neighborhoods. “There were enough pieces of the original staircase left to duplicate it,” said Daniel McCarthy, executive director of Episcopal Housing, who was a consultant for the restoration. Bits of the interior wood finish survived — in pieces. All were painstakingly copied and reinstated in this thoughtful and well-funded restoration. The Linden House can now serve as a model for restoration, neighborhood stabilization, and effective supportive housing.  The renovation was funded by Healthy Neighborhoods, Inc., with the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, two funds under the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and the France-Merrick Foundation. Through this support and the guidance of Baltimore City’s Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation, this long-neglected historic home was preserved, such that it awarded the 2014 Baltimore Heritage Renovation and Restoration Award.

Looking Toward the Future

Looking Toward the Future

2019 was a big year for the Women’s Housing Coalition. For the first time in over ten years, we were able to add more units. Expanding from 98 to 108 households has given 25 families and 83 individuals a place to call home. 

In partnership with Kaiser Permanente, our residents were able to go to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The partnership also provided residents with the opportunity to access tools they will need for career success with professional headshots, a pop-up thrift store, resume/job readiness workshop, and motivational speakers.

Events like this along with our ongoing life skills programming that focuses on mind and body health help ensure that our residents have all of the support and experience they need to create goals and meet them. 

Inside the Women’s Housing Coalition we also had some exciting changes to make sure we are meeting the needs of our growing number of residents. We have new staff members, including a part-time Case Manager and an Inspection Coordinator who is bridging the gap between Case Managers and inspections that we must comply with through the City. Our residents often struggle with having the skills to maintain their home, working with their landlords to get repairs completed, or letting strangers into their homes. The Inspection Coordinator is working closely with them and their Case Managers to build trusting relationships that will make this process easier on them and avoid triggering trauma. 

You may have noticed that the WHC also received a brand refresh to help us grow awareness for our organization! We designed a new logo and color scheme to freshen up our marketing at DesignFest, which was hosted by The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and sponsored by the T. Rowe Price Foundation.

Our new and improved website launched in June and shares our mission, resident success stories, and makes supporting the WHC easy for our donors.

We look forward to 2020 with high hopes for even more growth as we celebrate our 40th year of helping to end the cycle of homelessness. 

We invite you to help us celebrate at our annual event, Windows of Opportunity,  on April 1st from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

As we reflect on all we’ve accomplished over the last 40 years, we are hopeful for a future where every person has access to safe, affordable housing.