Hard Times Mean More Demand For Homeless Program

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lisa Culp is worried. She’s the Executive Director of Women’s Empowerment. Culp’s alarmed that an overwhelming number of women will sign-up for the program next month. 

“I’m afraid to even imagine how many people. I think we will have to continue to turn away more women and children.”  

She blames the high demand on the sour economy.     

“Housing foreclosures not only affect people who own the homes but people who rent those homes. People are being laid off from work. They don’t have the buffer that you and I might have of family or friends that they can stay with. And now they’re on the streets.”  

Culp expects many of those women on the streets to ask for her help. But she only has about 30 spaces available. She’s afraid many more women won’t get the chance to take part in a graduation ceremony…like the one held earlier this month. 

Close to 100 people packed into a large classroom on North C Street adorned with flowers and balloons. 

“Hi. Welcome everyone. My name is Maureen and I’m an empowered woman.”

Maureen York is one of 27 formerly homeless women graduating on this day. She’s middle-aged with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing dark-rimmed eye glasses and neatly dressed in a dark blazer. York blames substance abuse for her homelessness. 

“What happened is, I was using drugs for almost 35 years and got arrested and went to prison.”  

York says once she got out of prison she had no where to go and ended up on the streets. What made York turn her life around? ]

“I wanted my children back in my life. My children are adults now and I have grandchildren and I didn’t want them to be ashamed of me.” 

York’s been off drugs for a year now and works part-time at a local coffee shop. Her goal is to find a full-time job in customer service using the skills she learned from the Women’s Empowerment program. Classes are held over a two-month period near the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in North Sacramento. They include job training, self-esteem classes, and health courses. The women also get help with childcare and clothing for job interviews.

“Today, you’re witnessing the graduation of the largest class in our history.”

Lisa Culp created Women’s Empowerment in 2001 when she was working at Maryhouse – a shelter for women and children. 

“Women needed more than a shelter for a night or a shower in the morning. They needed the skills and the education to be able to get a job and to get back into housing.”

Culp says the program has helped more than 500 homeless women find homes and jobs. She says the class of 27 women graduating on this day is not only the largest. It also marks the first time Culp has had to turn away qualified applicants.

“There are even more people who are motivated to change their life and to get off the streets than you have space for or resources to attend to. So turning away people was one of the hardest things we’ve done in the seven years we’ve been here.”

Women’s Empowerment gets no government-funding. It’s $300,000 budget is paid for with donations from businesses, service groups and individuals. Grants are another source of funding but Culp says those are harder to come by now. 

“Non-profits are feeling the pinch just as everybody else is.” 

Ruth Blank is with the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. They connect donors with charities. 

“For some non-profits, especially safety net services, there’s a greater demand for their services and resources just aren’t available.” 

Blank says big businesses that used to give, have their money tied-up in the volatile stock market. 

“What we’re hearing a lot of is that charities that rely on corporate sponsorships and larger donations are the ones that are really having trouble – that individuals are still giving as much as they possibly can.” 

And that’s the case with the Women’s Empowerment program. Lisa Culp is asking individual contributors to give more money to keep it going. She’s also asking graduates of the program to return and mentor the growing number of new homeless women. She says that’s the silver lining…graduates going from women who needed help to helping others.