The Anti-Charity Charity

In his book “Toxic Charity,” Bob Lupton writes from experience that charity should be reserved for true emergencies*.  When a person loses his home (or is about to) due to sudden natural or economic causes, then people stepping in to help is definitely in order. Yet, after the emergency subsides, the more efficacious way to help people should change. We definitely should help people, but do our best not to do for them what they can do themselves.

I am involved as a volunteer with an agency that helps homeless families. We believe in empowering our homeless families—working in partnership with them to secure safe and stable housing and to create lasting change. These are things we know are necessary to break the cycle of generational poverty and become self-sufficient. When families have permanent housing, strong personal relationships and motivation to change, families will have the best chance to move out of a life of poverty and into a life of self-sufficiency.

Our families are working families—people you meet when you go to your doctor’s office or your child’s school, etc. Many have lost their homes due to a reduction in work hours, a medical crisis, domestic violence or some other financial or social setback. Our families were living paycheck to paycheck and with one small change, their world was turned upside down.

To access the full support of our agency, our families have to do their part. Families attend classes to learn better budgeting and financial skills, and they meet weekly with a social worker who challenges and encourages them to make better decisions. Also, after saving for a down payment, they work with a housing specialist to obtain affordable permanent housing. Families also receive supportive services from volunteer mentoring teams, which we call “Hope Teams.” Our model is simple—to help homeless families help themselves.

To be the best stewards of our families, funders and volunteers, we constantly evaluate our model to ensure that we are creating lasting and permanent change in the lives of the families we serve. In our last fiscal year, 91% of our families were self-sufficient after completing the housing part of our program. And, we just completed an exhaustive measurement exercise to learn that 88% of the families that exited our program into housing have sustained their housing on their own after three, six, twelve and twenty-four months milestones.

Our staff and Board of Directors know this model serves our clients in a respectful and effective manner—and we have the outcomes to prove it. The key takeaways are to help people climb the ladder, but not climb it for them. And, entrust the people closest to the client figure out the how to tweak or improve the model. Finally, measure outcomes. It is important to use your funders’ dollars judiciously and your volunteers’ time and efforts wisely. This stewardship is essential to success for our families.

22 thoughts on “The Anti-Charity Charity

  1. It seems, BTG, you have a model of funding that works…plus volunteers who believe in the program and who are passionate about the hours they donate to make it work. My question: is your model shared with other cities, or location specific to your area? Curious…

    • Raye, the housing first model is taking shape in a lot of places, yet our model is a refined version of this, as we do have a temporary shelter for about 45 days. Some our folks go directly into housing from other shelters and some who can catch before they are evicted through another agency whose job is to keep people housed. The key is to have some flexibility in the model that can easily allow some deviation based on the needed path for the family. Yet, our secret sauce is the Hope Teams of volunteers. We are willing to share our story more and our original Executive Director is willing to do that. If you want to talk off line, send me an email of what you are thinking and maybe we can arrange a road trip to interested parties. All the best, BTG

      • Portland has a few programs in place but I don’t know to what extent…not being personally involved. It will take some research on my part to see what agencies we have beyond Habitat…
        Give me some time to do some digging, and then I’ll email. Thanks. Raye

  2. Excellent! Are you able to say how your clients and your service meet? Is there a defined time frame? Your success rate is amazing. A workable program makes this retired social services person happy!

    • Great questions. I answered part of this to Raye below. We have several referring agencies in the Homeless Services Network. These efforts will be improved by a new coordinated intake system. We have 1, 2 and 3 years paths of rental subsidy based on the ability of the family to pay rent. Our families usually stay in a temporary shelter for 45 days to save some, attend some classes we call Bridges out of Poverty,” and begin work with a social worker. Some times we can place them directly into housing from another shelter. Some times we can catch them before they are evicted identified by another agency. When we merged three organizations to form this one, we challenged our social workers to develop a client based service model, which we have tweaked when needed based on measured outcomes or kinks that appeared in the model. I mentioned flexibility as one key to Raye. Another is have a continual improvement mindset. Yet, another is collaboration. We are big on not doing something that someone else can do. Sometimes, in the social services world, people take on things they should not to chase a funding resource. If you want to know more, please send me an email and I can give you some links. Thanks for your interest. BTG

    • Amaya’s statement said it much better than I did in my original comment. A model that could be shared….how good is that? I’ll be in touch later, BTG, regarding what I’ve found out for my particular area.
      And….to Missy A….thank you for sharing yours and your sister’s comments/conclusions on my last post. Hoping BTG doesn’t mind sharing his space here…for my reply to your lovely words…here. Raye

    • Thanks Amaya. We would be delighted to tell our story to others. Your neck of the woods in Asheville has done some neat things with chronic homeless individuals, that is also replicable in other places.

  3. Great work, BTG. Just read a piece that a town in Canada of about 3000 gave everyone a stipend instead of all the programs, and results were exceptional. My point is that programs such as yours and this one might be much better solutions than some of the programs we have today, and really aren’t achieving their goals.

    Well done, and I congratulate your efforts to contribute.

    • Thanks Barney. I firmly believe the best programs to help folks are developed closer to the ground. In our case, our social workers were given license to devise something and challenged to make it sustainable and flexible. The down side is we must work harder to spread good, workable ideas. Take care, BTG

  4. I agree with the sentiment in your post. Through my work I am also involved in tackling the issue of homelessness and personally believe that charities should help empower. One of our buildings is a three tiered mix of housing the formerly homeless, those with social housing needs and those who require affordable housing. In this way, residents can work their way up the housing ladder without having to be displaced in the shorter to medium term. I also agree that stable housing is fundamental t0 being able to work through other issues and is a key to empowerment.

    • Judy, thanks for sharing your experience and perspective. That sounds like a neat model, as well. And, thanks for validating the fundamental nature of stable housing. That makes other things more workable when one of Maslov’s basic needs are addressed. Best wishes, BTG

  5. That is an impressive success rate for the program.

    I’ve long thought that schools should do more to teach budgeting, accounting, credit, finance and record keeping.

    • Agreed. Those life skills are needed in many adults. Even your last one is so very essential about filing and saving what is needed and any transactions that may require follow-up. Thanks for your follow-up. BTG

  6. There are very successful organizations like yours, doing wonderful things to help homeless people. It’s too bad that the successful ones don’t become the model for the less successful ones that raise people’s ire so drastically.

    • Thanks Linda. I know of several benevolent band aid programs that are nice, but they are salving a wound and not changing why the wound is there. I appreciate your comments. BTG

  7. Impressive outcomes, BTG! I agree wholeheartedly with your strategy. Treating the symptom never heals the cause and in fact can make things worse over time. Your program exemplifies basic respect and expects that given the proper tools, families can and will overcome their limitations and go on to do well on their own. Your organization is doing very good things. A lot of the social programs are outdated and/or modeled after inefficient policies. Programs like yours are paradigm changing. There should be more people like you on the planet.

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