When Carissa* began working with RISE (Realizing Intergenerational Success through Education) her life was in turmoil. After escaping an abusive relationship, Carissa was left to care for her 4 children (the youngest, only 3 months old) without work or any financial assistance. She also learned that her landlord had begun the legal eviction process, and she was about to lose her housing voucher too.
The situation was bleak, but RISE supported Carissa every step of the way. Staff worked quickly to help her obtain the necessary paperwork to avoid an eviction, keeping the family from becoming homeless and the children from a disruptive school move. Today, all of her children are well engaged in school and appropriate therapy. Carissa is committed to the safety and well-being of her children, and she’s on the right track to reach her goals of furthering her education, the children’s education, and eventual transition to the workforce.
An Integrated Approach to Tackle Family Homeless
While Carissa’s family experienced the added trauma of abuse, the challenge of finding safe, affordable housing is not unique to them. As of January 2017, there were 300 families in Lynn, MA, who were officially identified as experiencing homelessness. Many others double-up in overcrowded units, challenged by a tight and expensive housing market. Given the cost of housing, it’s no surprise that families like Carissa’s move frequently in an attempt to find safe, affordable housing.
For children, frequent moves or stints in shelter can significantly impact their ability to learn. Frequently changing schools disrupts education, making it hard to thrive academically, to participate in extracurricular activities, or even attend school regularly. For parents, stable housing is also important and necessary for succeeding with career training opportunities, maintaining a job, or building good credit and savings.
Recognizing just how important stable housing is for families, United Way convened a unique collaboration in the City of Lynn called RISE. The approach is to create a partnership between the Lynn Public Schools (LPS) and Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development (LHAND) to holistically address the concerns of parents and children who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability. And it’s working. Last year alone, 98% of the children served by RISE avoided a disruptive move during the school year.
How RISE Works
When school guidance counselors, teachers, or nurses identify a child whose family is struggling to maintain housing, they are referred to RISE. Alternatively, parents may make their way to LHAND because they have received an eviction notice, as Carissa’s family did. Once referred, families get two very important connections: a Case Manager from LHAND and a Case Manager from LPS who work hand-in-hand to help the family reach their goals.
Families set financial goals like getting a better job or paying their rent on time. They also set goals for their children’s education like enrolling in after-school programs or establishing an Individualized Education Program (IEP). For many families, RISE helps to:
- Stabilize housing
- Create financial goals
- Develop income
- Find employment
- Address concerns that impact school attendance
- Connect kids to tutoring, support, and out-of-school time opportunities
“All families want the same things for their children—to thrive in their classroom and connect with meaningful extracurricular activities. For families trying to navigate a tight and costly housing market, this can seem out of reach,” says says Sarah Bartley, Senior Director of Community Impact at United Way.
“The approach of RISE is to be both integrated and family-driven. Staff connect families to resources in the schools and in the community, seamlessly guiding them to reach their goals,” Sarah explains.
While resolving a housing emergency is step one, the intention of RISE is to help families achieve real financial stability. Each year, about 40% of families have been able to move beyond the housing emergency that brought them to RISE, and they’ve made significant steps toward financial stability.
In just four years, RISE has become a critical asset for the City of Lynn and an invaluable resource to children and their families who reside there.
*Name changed for privacy