Facing Homelessness, Citizens Seek out a CHAMP

Reprinted with permission from the Cornerstone Fund.

Housing insecurity is a big problem in America. While homelessness has declined, there are still millions of families that teeter on the edge between housing and homelessness. The U.S. Census Department recently revealed that one in every four renting households (roughly 19 million families) spend more than half their monthly income on rent. This is the definition of “housing insecure,” when one emergency or unexpected expense can send a family over the edge into homelessness.

Genesa Gonzalez lost the home she shared with her mother during the Great Recession. Unable to live independently at the time, a United Church of Christ affiliated nonprofit organization, CHAMP Homes, became a necessary refuge for Gonzalez. At CHAMP, Gonzalez has become an active community member and, with the support from staff, taken steps toward independent living.

While federal and local dollars can help people in crisis with shelters and soup kitchens, people who are housing insecure often need more comprehensive support. Based in Hyannis, Mass., CHAMP Homes seeks to heal the causes of homelessness, not just the symptoms. “Our goal is to position our program participants to prevent future homelessness by modeling and teaching life skills and asking each to step up to their own personal best,” says Beth Wade, executive director of CHAMP Homes. “Champ is a hand-up program. We try to work with individuals to position them to deal with the issues that led up to their homelessness. Sometimes it is a mental health issue and it is connecting them with medical and psychiatric help, helping them to increase their med compliance. Or it is an educational issue: they need more life skills or job training.  Or it might be a situational issue: needing to clear up legal matters, for example.”

CHAMP Finds the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund

CHAMP discovered the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund through its membership in the United Church of Christ’s Council Health and Human Services Ministries (CHHSM). While local banks can be a source of financial security for non-profit organizations, many of them are not willing to take a risk on organizations that rely on donations and grants to support their work. This leaves many organizations, including CHAMP Homes, in need of less traditional funding sources. Wade says, “Cornerstone understood the idiosyncrasies of non-profits and their finances.” Champ, like many nonprofits, relies on donations. Private donations are often cyclical, with many donors giving most at the end of the calendar year. This can create “lean seasons” for a nonprofit, often in the summer when programming is at its height. To answer this need, the Cornerstone Fund provided a $100,000 line of credit to CHAMP Homes, allowing CHAMP to survive such a lean cycle and keep operations moving so their doors stay open.

For CHAMP Homes, staying open means saving lives. CHAMP members are a diverse group, crossing ages, religious backgrounds, abilities, and life experience. But they all share one very important trait: every member was homeless or very close to being homeless.

CHAMP Homes understands that people experiencing homelessness often need to feel safe to be able to thrive. CHAMP’s social justice values encouraged the organization to seek out funders with shared value systems. “I very much appreciate the faith-based values of Cornerstone,” says Wade. “They are not only words, but lived values.  And we certainly appreciate and uphold that — as we work to live our values out in our own community, too.”

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