by Kali Dye and David Graham
A 2004 study conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that families with children account for 40% of homeless people in America. Shelters are commonly filled to capacity making it difficult to accommodate the families’ needs. Today, many cities are finding creative ways to combat this trend. In New York City, for instance, Women In Need (WIN) was established as an innovative answer to this growing epidemic.
WIN is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1983 and serves about 7,500 women and children each year. There are seven WIN shelters that are located throughout Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan. Although each shelter is different, they all have the same general purpose: to restore dignity, promote independence, and provide stable housing for families. The typical length of time that a family will spend in a shelter is approximately six to nine months.
Bonnie Bean, an Akron native, is the Program Director at the Alexander Abraham Shelter in Manhattan. According to Bean, the facility provides “food and shelter for the homeless families, substance abuse treatment, employment opportunities, as well as workshops in such things as money management, healthy relationships, resume writing, and interviewing skills.”
Each client resides in the shelter until they graduate from the program, which includes various different educational classes and workshops to teach women how to live on their own and support a family.
For various reasons, WIN has had an outstanding success rate to this point. WIN’s dedication to providing all the necessities for mothers to get back on their feet is a crucial part of its success. Other than the workshops that WIN provides, it also helps to reintroduce women to an independent lifestyle. WIN provides several services to its clients, including a fulltime childcare program that can be utilized for up to eighteen months after the women have left the shelter.
Another service they provide is a partnership with a network of realtors who help find the families low cost housing so that they can live on their own. A third service that helps foster more independence for women is a course in job-seeking that includes learning how to successfully write resumes and to be more confident and prepared for interviews. After they have gone through these courses, WIN sets them up with employers who are looking for entry-level workers with an emphasis on growth and development. This commitment to go above and beyond the standard support offered by shelters has led to an impressive success rate. Of the women who find permanent housing through this program, 95% are able to maintain their status after two years.
[Editor’s Note: Cleveland’s Best Shelters average a 50% success rate.]
New York City’s unique women’s shelter system has been a success, and because of that many other cities are considering similar ventures. Bean believes strongly that Women In Need is a program that greatly contributes to the success of women who would otherwise have nowhere to turn.
“I certainly recommend the type of program that WIN runs for homeless families because I think we prepare clients for what to expect when they are independent,” Bean said.
Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #70, May 2005. All Rights Reserved