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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.