The home is the easy part. What makes Endow-A-Home so special is what happens next.
This year Endow-A-Home celebrates 25 years of helping mothers move from homelessness to homeownership. But providing a home for a family in need is just the start. The real work of Endow-A-Home lies in the comprehensive long-term case management and support services that help motivated mothers achieve self-sufficiency and a stable life for their family.
“Once they put you in a home, they come in and ask: ‘OK, now what are you going to do? What’s your plan?’” says Asha, one of the first Endow-A-Home moms. “We’d get together for those workshops, and we cried every time we saw each other. Emotions were so raw. But after our little sniffle-fest, it was: ‘What are you going to do?’’’
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Endow-A-Home helped Asha enroll in cosmetology school, and she now owns Silver Strands Salon in Elkins Park, Pa.
Founded by Resources for Human Development in 1988, Endow-A-Home is one of the most successful homeownership programs in the country, boasting a nearly 80 percent success rate and gaining praise from Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (“a great program”) and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (“I know of no other comparable program”).
Endow-A-Home began like most other homeless programs – it was about shelter. But Endow-A-Home director Cynthia Brooks quickly saw that this wasn’t enough.
Homelessness was a symptom of a larger debilitating issue, she reasoned. So she began attacking the root causes, launching an initiative that focused on case management. And the results have been spectacular.
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Endow-A-Home provides homes for 45 mothers and their children at any given time. In the 20-year history of Endow-A-Home, 76 percent of the mothers reported a positive outcome – holding a job and/or going to school while purchasing their own homes, or moving into independent living. It’s a model that RHD believes can be replicated across the nation with equal success.
“We realized we had to come up with a case management program, and it had to be in the houses – home visits,’’ Brooks says. “Women write their goals down. Not necessarily lofty, big-picture goals, but daily, one-step-at-a-time goals. Not ‘Get your degree,’ but ‘Call about enrolling in school.’ Not ‘Become a perfect mom,’ but ‘Read to your kids today.’
“It’s about teaching them how to incrementally change their lives. Taking that on shows that we see them as valued. Worthwhile. Deserving. That translates back to themselves, in decisions like who you pick to live with you, what you see as your goals. They can see that there is more to life.”
In order to qualify for Endow-A-Home, a homeless woman and her children must have a Section 8 subsidy. Only mothers with children are eligible. The women work with an affiliated Realtor to select a home of their choice from available houses covered by the Section 8 subsidy.
“I can still remember sitting at the table, signing the contracts, thinking I was actually going to have a home,’’ says Debra, an Endow-A-Home graduate. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. The package they put together, they made it work for me and my three daughters.
“It was the best thing I could have done. There’s no way I would have been able to provide a roof over our heads.”
Debra is now a job placement case manager with the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
Endow-A-Home has dozens of success stories. All of them begin with a home. But all of them end happily because of the long-term commitment of case management.
“Without that, it’s like trying to drive a three-wheeled car,’’ Brooks says. “If you don’t have case management, it won’t work. It’s not that the women aren’t able. It’s not that they aren’t willing. It’s that they just don’t know how. Case management provides the know-how.”
Brooks calls the Endow-A-Home women “mother-partners.” And it is a partnership. The mothers have to show progress in building their lives and those of their children to stay in the program.
“They gave me a foundation I could build on,’’ says Katrina, an Endow-A-Home graduate.
Many mother-partners go on to own their own homes. The first was Sharon Johnson, a formerly homeless single mother with a 12-year-old son, who became a homeowner with the help of the first interest-free community-service mortgage in Philadelphia history.
“It was such a weight off my shoulders, that pressure of not knowing what was going to happen next,’’ Johnson says. “It couldn’t have been better for me. To know I had a home, a safe environment for my children, was the best feeling. It was one of the best opportunities, and best experiences, of my life.”
Johnson went on to earn her master’s degree and is now the director of human resources at the Gaudenzia drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. And she’s still with Endow-A-Home: Johnson now sits on the program’s advisory board.
“I was honored they asked me,’’ Johnson says. “I’d do anything for Endow-A-Home – stuff envelopes, whatever. I just want more women to have the opportunity that Endow-A-Home can offer.”