We nestle under the blankets, or in front of a fire with hot cocoa, looking out on the cold, Wyoming winter, and appreciate the warmth and safety of family and home during the holiday season. While this It’s a Wonderful Life vision is merry and bright, it doesn’t encapsulate the full spectrum of what this time of year brings to many people. For some, simply finding a space warm enough to survive the night is a gift on its own.
Housing insecurity and homelessness can happen to anyone. “Homelessness can simply be the result of bad financial management and/or a job loss. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck without any savings. Nearly 30% of single parents live in poverty (Annie E. Casey Foundation) and in addition, 80% of single-parent families are headed by single mothers (U.S. Census Bureau),” says Seton House Executive Director Carrie Reese. Furthermore, “homelessness can be invisible in Casper and Natrona County in the winter. Our homeless families are not physically on the street most of the day, so as a community we can easily forget how many of our neighbors are experiencing hardship and homelessness.” Seton House, a program supporting single-family parents facing homelessness, provides safe, warm, private spaces so that families can regain their self-sufficiency.
“We are hoping that each family we serve will become self-sufficient by learning new skills, practicing new habits and making new and different choices for their families. We're just supporting their hard work,” says Director Reese.
This time of year can be tough for many. “It is especially tough on the young adults that we work with who do not really have the familial support,” explains Austin Rodemaker, Executive Director of the Unaccompanied Students Initiative (USI). Rodemaker’s program provides life-skills training and a support system for youths 16-20 experiencing homelessness, as well as a stable, safe place to stay so that they have a chance to get back on their feet.
“If a person does not have their basic necessities, they will never be able to focus on personal growth and development,” says Rodemaker. “If the person is constantly fighting for basic survival, we cannot expect them to come out and be ready to take on the world. The constant search for survival wears on a person and especially their mental health.”
“While there is no shortage and variety of challenges, the fiscal cliff that is associated with the cycle of poverty is a substantial contributing factor to [housing] instability. We must continue to take a stewardship approach to break the poverty cycle and address multiple barriers long term,” explains Brenda Birkle, Executive Director of the Wyoming Family Home Ownership Program (DBA My Front Door). For their part, My Front Door relies on steady and long-term education, counseling, and relationships to combat the poverty cycle. Their program teaches budgeting and requires a savings plan, and the mentorship program continues for 5 years after the home is purchased so that new homeowners can continue to learn and grow with a support system. “Our intervention strategies for low to moderate-income families do seek to prevent homelessness and support economic mobility outcomes. In keeping with our social justice framework, preventing homelessness and narrowing the wealth gap through homeownership changes the systems designed to keep people in poverty and drain community resources,“ says Director Birkle.
Birkle reflects back on a meaningful moment for their organization: “We had a site visit from a local funder in which we included some of our families. One child chimed in with the fact that he received a bicycle and he was so excited that he could ride it ‘on my sidewalk, in my very own backyard, anytime I want...and I like that a lot’. This is our ‘why’!! We gave mom and dad the tools, but they did the hard work, they gave their child that experience they will treasure forever. The moment and place in time that will always bring them back home.”
“It takes hard work and determination to build or rebuild the foundation for a stable home, but you don’t have to do it alone. Hughes Charitable Foundation is proud to support organizations such as My Front Door, USI, and Seton House, whose goals of independence and self-sufficiency strengthen our communities and set the groundwork for future generations,” says Molly Hughes, Executive Director of the Hughes Charitable Foundation.
A home for the holidays means different things to different people. We come from different backgrounds, face different challenges, and choose different paths. But we all deserve the opportunity for self-sufficiency, the gift of finding and creating our own kind of safe and stable home.