Hope for the Homeless: A Wake County nonprofit that rehomes families receives a grant from Jeff Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund
Even in the pre-Covid era, millions of Americans were living just one unexpected expense away from losing their home. Luckily, Families Together believes that every family deserves a stable home, and they work every day to make that possible.
For 46 years, the Wake County nonprofit has worked with families experiencing homelessness to move them into permanent stable housing. Once a family is housed, Mentor-Advocates provide ongoing mentoring and support for up to a year by connecting them with community resources, budget training, employment searches and tools for increasing income. Their focus is to keep families together despite obstacles they may encounter at traditional shelters and to help families create a stable home where children can thrive.
In 2020 the organization served 201 families (712 individuals of whom 434 were children). Currently, 80% of their enrollees are successfully moved into permanent housing that they can maintain for at least one year.
Volunteers from a local church gather at the Families Together offices.
This year Families Together will receive a $1.25 million grant from the Day 1 Families Fund established by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, in 2018. This $2 billion philanthropic initiative issues annual leadership awards to organizations and groups conducting compassionate, needle-moving work that provides shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families.
“A grant of $1.25 million, and the opportunity for transformative impact on the lives of many more Wake County families experiencing homelessness, marks a new day in the 40-year history of Families Together,” says Lisa Rowe, Executive Director of Families Together. “What an incredible honor for Families Together to be chosen after a national search by the Day 1 Families Fund.”
The grant is the organization’s largest in their history and is expected to be transformational to the work they are already doing on the ground. Their plan to expand the Emergency Shelter is currently being carried out — the result will be individual units where families can live until they are permanently housed, unlike traditional shelters. This allows Families Together to accommodate two-parent households, single dads, families with older boys, same-sex couples and multigenerational families — in line with their namesake of keeping families together.
A Families Together client enters her new home after the lease signing.
The Day 1 Fund grant will also allow Families Together to identify, acquire and renovate properties in their area to create more affordable housing such as duplexes, triplexes and quads. As they grow their permanent rental units, this will allow Families Together to gradually get rid of some of their less cost-efficient programs, and increase the monetary resources for other needs they’re serving. They already own three condos and recently purchased and renovated a duplex as well. They’re currently working on plans to develop a cottage court neighboring the Families Together offices, for which the Day 1 Fund will provide seed money.
This grant will also allow Families Together to expand their new FEE (Financial Education and Empowerment) team. This team focuses on helping enrollees with intensive budgeting, credit repair, increasing income, job connection, and job skills — all critical things for long-term success. Thanks to the Day 1 Families Fund, this will be transformed from a part-time and volunteer to a full-time position with Families Together.
In 2020, when the impacts of COVID-19 devastated communities across the world, Wake County was no exception. The economic impacts of the pandemic caused the local need for homeless and at-risk families to skyrocket. As North Carolina and the entire country stares down an eviction-crisis once the COVID-19 related eviction moratoriums are lifted, the Bezos Day 1 Fund grant could not have come at a more critical time for Families Together.
Families Together has been able to extend its reach into the community and help an additional 100 families in 2020. This extended reach allowed for 30 more families that were living in motels to be served (they are not currently considered homeless under the federal definition of homelessness). Throughout 2020, Families Together also provided shelter for 30 more families that were unable to access traditional shelters and had members with greater risk factors had they contracted COVID-19. In the first six months of this fiscal year, Families Together was able to house more families than they did all of the previous year. Between an increase in enrollment to their traditional program and their new affordable housing initiatives, they have almost doubled their capacity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Board Member Merrilee Jacobson and her husband Ken volunteering at a grounds cleanup service event at a Families Together property.
Families Together has already hit the ground running in 2021; they never let their foot off the gas. In addition to their shelter expansion, which they hope to have completed by the end of the year, they continue to acquire new properties to use as transitional housing. They’re also aiming to break ground on their cottage court development this summer.
“Families Together is a community-led response to a critical community need for housing support that has taken on increased urgency due to the pandemic. If you have a passion for ending family homelessness, we need and welcome your support of our mission,” says Rowe.
You can donate to Families Together here: https://familiestogethernc.org/general-donatio-form and you can learn more about Families Together and their success stories here, https://familiestogethernc.org/our-missionvisionvalues and at, https://familiestogethernc.org/success-stories.