COVID-19 escalated many of the challenges our residents face. There was an increased focus on accessing support networks and resources. We looked closely at addressing food insecurity and Wi-Fi access. Food insecurity immediately became an issue for our residents when COVID happened for several reasons.
When the pandemic struck, food insecurity immediately became an issue for our residents for several reasons. Initially, WHC was purchasing food and providing residents with a virtual pantry of shelf-stable staples. While this was a good short-term idea, it wasn’t a long-term solution. Residents’ concerns about food also decreased their capacity to address other concerns in their lives. Food was scarce in many stores as much of the general public engaged in bulk purchasing, and other factors began coming into play to make food insecurity more challenging for our residents.
Starting in April 2020, WHC partnered with J.C. Faulk from Bmore Community Foods, a project spearheaded by Faulk’s non-profit that “rescues” food from restaurants, retail outlets, farms, etc., and distributes it for free to those in need. Faulk’s work with food insecurity has been especially important during this time, and through this partnership, we have been able to provide our residents with 20-25 pound boxes of fresh produce, food staples, frozen food items, and meat twice a month. While helping our residents stretch their food budgets, we’ve also given them the opportunity to try new foods, depending on the produce in the boxes they receive. To help with food distribution, The Junior League of Baltimore has been an essential partner; they coordinate and execute the delivery of these boxes to our residents.
Throughout 2020, WHC became especially aware of how the absence of access to high-speed Internet impacted our residents’ lives. Not having access to the Internet during COVID has meant additional challenges with accessing health care via telemedicine once in-person visits to doctors were decreased. When human services organizations stopped seeing clients in person and moved their services online, lack of access to high-speed internet meant applying for benefits like the SNAP program and unemployment benefits became increasingly more difficult. Without high-speed internet, online learning for children in our program also proved problematic. Even our residents who had smartphones often did not have data plans large enough to navigate the internet for any extended period of time.
The reliance on the internet that has increased since the pandemic began is not going to decrease when COVID is less of a threat. This has become the “new normal.” Internet access has ceased to be an unnecessary luxury, and basic knowledge of how to operate technology is not something primarily for non-low-income individuals and families, especially when it comes to finding work. Digital equity is an important issue for us to tackle as a human services organization. Thanks to a partnership with Baltimore City Schools and our case managers’ diligent work, we have been able to provide all our students with electronic devices.
The food support we offer residents has freed up money that has allowed us to help people enroll in the subsidized internet connectivity program that Xfinity offers at a monthly cost of $9.95 for residents not living in SRO units. Additionally, thanks to grants from Abell Foundation and France-Merrick Foundation, we have wired our four SRO buildings for high-speed internet access, and we have been awarded funding to purchase devices for our residents to use. Once we purchase these devices, we will roll out our “Loan or Own” program to residents who have been with us for at least a year with the recommendation of their case managers.
Though 2020 was a trying year, it brought about new ways and opportunities to help our residents as they work towards their future. We look forward to seeing the benefits of these new resources for years to come.
We are excited to share that our board leadership has changed. The board of the Women’s Housing Coalition is comprised of people that have expertise in issues related to general homelessness, and/or affordable housing.
Our current slate of officers are all new and started at the beginning t of the year in their positions which they will keep for two years.
Our board members make valuable contributions to our organization.
Board members provide increased visibility of the WHC and its mission throughout the community. They often connect with or provide access to other community members who are capable of making financial contributions. Board members provide support for WHC’s fundraising events by purchasing and selling tickets, sponsorships, and attending events throughout the year.
Board members actively participate in one or two committees focused on finance, executive, fundraising/events, and programs where they attend regular meetings and share their expertise.
We are looking forward to the future and growth of the Women’s Housing Coalition under our new board leadership.
President, Twopoint Studio, LLC
Regulatory Associate Analyst
T. Rowe Price
Sanford M. Goodman
Retired Senior Executive
Dale R. McArdle
Retired Senior Executive
Kara D.Beverly, JD
Office of Institutional Equity
Johns Hopkins University
T Rowe Price
Senior Vice President
Bozzuto Construction Company
Riverside Advisors, LLC
Keval Thakkar, AIA
Hord Coplan Macht
Founder and CEO
Blank Slate Development, LLC
Mary Claire Davis
AHC Greater Baltimore, Inc.
Nancy Rase Consulting
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.