I recently met Danielle, a 21-year-old raising her 4-year-old daughter on her own. Danielle grew up in housing projects in Alabama and had been without a permanent home until recently.
Danielle is probably not the example most of us would envision when we think of people who are homeless. But single-mom families make up about half of this region’s homeless population – and in fact families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. On any given night, about 7,000 families in Washington State sleep in shelters, in cars, on couches, or simply on the street.
Thanks to the work of Building Changes and its partners, there is hope for Washington State families who are homeless. At its annual luncheon in Seattle, we saluted organizations that are serving people such as Danielle and her daughter in effective, innovative ways.
Homelessness is not simply a loss of an address. It’s a loss of stability and security that has far reaching impacts for its youngest victims. Homelessness disrupts kids’ schooling and emotional development, which may lead to school absences, poor test scores, and serious behavioral problems.
Danielle is juggling an extraordinary number of burdens – two jobs, a full college course load, and, most importantly, being a single parent. The good news is that Danielle is succeeding, in part thanks to the programs pioneered by Building Changes.
For more than 20 years, Building Changes has been exploring new, creative ways to improve the lives of our most vulnerable people and families. It is now leading work to fundamentally change the way we work with homeless families in the Puget Sound.
Building Changes encourages government, churches, non-profits, and volunteers to rethink how they coordinate their collective resources to help families who are homeless. The goal is to create finely-tuned partnerships that put our state’s most vulnerable families on the path to stability and self- sufficiency.
Building Changes is making progress toward this goal. As I shared in a speech I gave at today’s luncheon:
- Under Building Changes’s leadership, more than 1,000 families have been supported with housing and intensive case management services.
- Building Changes has launched new partnerships with the Workforce Development Councils to test “Employment Navigators” in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. These navigators work to make sure families who are homeless have access to a coordinated array of education, training, and employment services. More than half of formerly homeless parents receiving support from the fund have become employed within 12 months. On average, their family incomes have increased 32 percent.
- In the tri-county region, Building Changes is at the forefront of efforts to create “one door” policies so that vulnerable families have one place to call or one way to request help instead of negotiating numerous agencies and case workers. To prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place, the counties are also developing early warning systems that can flag families who start receiving food stamps or have utilities shut off. That way they can assist vulnerable families before their problems snowball and they lose their homes.
Building Changes is weaving a safety net that is more like a trampoline, catching vulnerable families before they fall into homelessness and propelling them into lives of stability and self sufficiency.
Building this new safety net takes many partners, including government, churches, volunteers, and, most importantly, vulnerable families. This new system is not just about asking families what they need, but also helping them identify the steps they need to take along the path to self-sufficiency.
I was thrilled to learn that Danielle is well on her way to ensuring she can provide a safe home for her daughter and break a cycle of poverty. Working together we can help more people like Danielle succeed.