Inside the House

Opening The Doors To Change: The Women's Housing Coalition


by: Beth Benner


The following is the speech that was given by Beth Benner at the Women’s Housing Coalition’s 2017 The View From My Room Annual event:

Imagine you were sleeping outside tonight.

Imagine you have nowhere to sleep and no one to call.

Imagine you have no car to sleep in.

Imagine your kids are with you.

Imagine you must throw away any food you did manage to obtain before you could enter a shelter to sleep.

Imagine it was raining and you were trying to stay dry.

There were 140 human beings last year that the Women’s Housing Coalition assisted in getting off the streets, in staying off the streets and given a home.

Tonight, more than 20 kids now know where they will wake up tomorrow and the day after that.

98 women who can plan their next meal.

98 women no longer have to be afraid of being attacked during the night.

27 mothers no longer have to fear having their children taken away.

Every week our staff receives phone calls from someone experiencing homelessness asking for a place to stay. Each time we tell them we can’t help. At best, we provide them contacts that might be able to help and with information on how to get on the waiting list for housing. Imagine the strength it takes to ask for help only to be told you have to get on a waiting list. Imagine being the staff person who week after week has to turn them away. Each day we turn people away because there’s just not enough: not enough money, not enough time, not enough resources.

At the moment, many people are immobilized by need and the polarization in the world. They are caught up in complaining, when in fact, just the opposite is needed.

Now is the time to lean in: to give of yourself, to care more about the people most in need, to work with someone who disagrees with you.

Since last fall, services and values that we took for granted are no longer certain. Here’s why WHC needs your support more than ever:

Housing is a basic need. When housing is in place everything else in your life has a chance to flourish. An individual’s growth, health and housing stability does not come from fear or scarcity. It comes from an approach of abundance.

It’s very easy to say homeless people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps… homeless individuals have almost nothing. We are helping them to get those bootstraps, the strength to pull them on and the skills to keep them on.

By strength we mean funding, lobbying, spreading the word about the WHC, being a voice for homelessness and supporting the people who are committed every day to help homeless women and children become and stay formerly homeless.

Funding is being cut dramatically at HUD. Affordable housing programs are on the chopping block. At the Women’s Housing Coalition, we could look upon these budget cuts as a time to batten down the hatches, cut back our services or even serve fewer people.

That type of approach will not help! It won’t help our residents, our organization or our community! We need to lean in individually and collectively.

For every person we are serving there are 50 more who are out there tonight across the state. You may not be seeing them in your neighborhood, but they are there. They are huddling in the abandoned buildings, shelters, tents and under bridges tonight.

Women who have experienced violence, addiction and mental health problems need even more support in these times of fear and frustration. The Women’s Housing Coalition supports them so that current fears don’t again trigger behaviors that led to homelessness in the first place.

  • We have a mom trying to raise a severely autistic child on $8,800 a year. Because of the WHC they are not homeless tonight.

  • More than a dozen women are living on $185 cash per month plus food stamps and then paying $46 of that for rent. Because of the WHC they are not homeless tonight.

  • We have residents who are alone in the world suffering from loneliness, mental health problems, poor decisions, violence. Because of the WHC, they have a home and support.

In 2017, we are providing more targeted case management support to these residents. This is allowing us to meet the changing demands of our residents. We are increasing our staff support to our residents by adding new ways for residents to work on their life skills and to open up to staff. This will allow residents not only to keep that roof over their head for another day but also to develop a path to achieve their individual dreams and goals. To take charge of their life and to create change.

There are no throw away people. Each time I hear a story about our residents, I am in awe of the work our staff does but more importantly, I am excited about the very hard work that residents undertake to claim their life.

  • One of our resident’s is working on her social work degree while her 18 year old daughter is aiming to be a nurse or maybe even a nurse practitioner. It takes help, however, when your income is below poverty levels. That’s why we are here.

  • Another resident has held a job over ten years even through her homelessness. Without access to a housing voucher she cannot get a place of her own that she can afford due to the staggering cost of rental housing in Baltimore. That's why we are here.

  • Another resident just completed major dental work and has a set of new dentures. To the resident, it is a source of pride, accomplishment and self-worth. An important part of her journey. That's why we are here.

Tonight, tomorrow night and all the nights thereafter there will be a growing need for services for people who are at risk for losing their housing. For almost 40 years the WHC has been lifting up women and that doesn’t happen without our supporters.

We are proud of our past, we are providing quality in the present and we will be a strength in the future!

You are a big part of this history, this present and this future as we open doors to change. Thank you for being part of making change. If you would like to support WHC and learn more about us, click here.

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