www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-united-way-homeless-20121224,0,3508006.story

baltimoresun.com

New United Way program prevents homelessness — in time for Christmas

Program provided Brooklyn Homes resident with rent, gifts, groceries

By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

5:06 PM EST, December 24, 2012

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A few months ago, things were looking bleak for Brooklyn Homes resident Christina Stocks.

The 27-year-old single mother of two took a pay cut at work and fell behind in her rent payments. She was facing eviction — and a Christmas on the streets.

Searching the Internet for some sort of help, Stocks came across the United Way's Family Stability Initiative. She called, and everything changed. The organization helped Stocks out with her rent — keeping the family in their apartment — and provided her with groceries and Christmas presents.

"I remember not always being able to have a Christmas when I was a child," Stocks said on Christmas Eve, with gifts now under the tree for her 5-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and 6-year-old son, Terence. "We almost went through the same struggle. It's nice to know in 2012 that there are people who still care to help."

The support allowed Stocks time to search for a new, higher-paying job at Loyola University Maryland, which she landed; she began work last week.

"All of them were very helpful there, very friendly," Stocks said of the employees at the United Way, particularly program manager Kelly Baker. "You don't feel like you're being judged."

According to a report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors released last week, 60 percent of cities said they saw an increase in the past year in the number of people experiencing homelessness. More than 70 percent of the cities reported an increase in homelessness among families. Because no beds were available for them, homeless families with children were turned away by emergency shelters in 64 percent of cities, according to the survey, which analyzed 25 jurisdictions.

The United Way's Family Stability Initiative is designed to "prevent family homelessness, as well as provide for the kind of housing stability that allows children to continue attending their same schools," said Ashley Gorby, a spokeswoman for the United Way of Central Maryland.

The initiative aims to "lift families out of crisis," allowing children to "do well in their studies so they can ultimately graduate," Gorby wrote in an email.

Since May, when the program launched, the United Way has helped 40 families on the brink of homelessness. Many of these families got in touch with the United Way by calling 211, the organization's hotline. In January, the United Way will expand the program and help homeless families find "affordable, safe and stable" housing, Gorby said. The organization will also help those families with continued financial stability, such as financial planning and navigating the state and federal code come tax time.

Stocks said she plans to take advantage of the United Way's financial training programs in the next year. Gorby described Stocks as a "hard-working single mom."

For Stocks, the program couldn't have made for a happier Christmas.

"To me, Christmas is not always about gifts, but the fact that my children are going to be able to open something under the tree, that's just a true blessing," she said.

For more information, visit: uwcm.org/main/what-we-do/basic-needs/family-stability-initiative.html

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

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