Agency Q&A: Housing Families First

United Way works with 40+ local and regional nonprofit agencies to tackle each of our nine Steps to SuccessGet to know these agencies and learn about their partnership with United Way. We invited Beth Vann-Turnbull, Executive Director of Housing Families First, to tell us about her work.
Tell us about your current role and your professional background.

I currently serve as Executive Director of Housing Families First, a local agency that originally opened its doors as Hilliard House in 2001. Over the past 21 years, I have served as Executive Director of four small nonprofits with budgets between $500,000 and $1.5 million. While each of these organizations has a distinct mission, their overall goals are similar – to offer individuals and families a higher quality of life through improved access to basic needs, specifically housing and health care.

What is Housing Families First’s mission?

Housing Families First provides families experiencing homelessness with the tools to achieve housing stability. We carry out this mission through two programs – an emergency shelter, called Hilliard House, and a rapid re-housing program. In FY2018, more than 380 children and adults living in 131 households participated in one or both of our housing programs. 80% exited directly into permanent housing as they left our program, and 25% increased their household income.

These totals and percentages are always useful measures, but at Housing Families First, we strive to be mindful that each household represented in our figures is an individual family, with their own unique story, challenges and strengths. Thanks to the support of United Way donors and other generous individuals and organizations, we’ve had the pleasure of helping a variety of families find permanent housing over the past few months, ranging from a toddler and his single dad who was struggling with a long-term illness to a single woman in her 70s who previously experienced homelessness over a period of years to a mom and four children who were homeless for the first time.

What is your rapid re-housing program and how does it support the Basic Needs component of United Way’s Steps to Success?

Rapid re-housing is exactly what you might guess – a program designed to get vulnerable families and individuals experiencing homelessness quickly into a safe, permanent home. Primary components of rapid re-housing include:

  • Individualized assistance in locating a suitable apartment or rental home
  • Financial assistance to lease and move-in (application fees, security deposits, first month’s rent etc.), and
  • Case management and connections to community resources to help the family stabilize, usually offered over a three-to-six month period

Rapid re-housing is not a comprehensive solution to poverty or the affordable housing crisis, but it absolutely IS a solution to a family’s homelessness. And it works. 86% of families do not return to homelessness within a year after leaving the program.

Everyone agrees that housing is truly a basic need. Research shows that children experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often than their housed peers. Without support, the graduation rate for homeless students is typically far below that of housed students. Rapid re-housing provides families with the stable foundation – a safe home – on which to build educational success, expanded job opportunities, financial well-being and more.

What do you see as the biggest value United Way brings to your organization?

Housing Families First positively impacts the lives of many families in the Greater Richmond region, but as a relatively small organization, we are not a household name. Many individuals and companies across the region first find out about Housing Families First through our partnership with United Way. And, of course, the United Way grant that funds our rapid re-housing program not only enables us to help more families find a home, but also serves as required matching funds for our public grants. In short, our United Way grant actually serves as leverage to bring additional funds for housing into our community.

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