Agencies join forces to help homeless population acquire financial literacy

After being homeless for years, Jerry Claypool couldn’t contain his joy when he found out he’d been approved for his own apartment.

Jerry Claypool, Lawrence, gets choked up in a meeting with his Salvation Army case manager, Carol Taylor, on Tuesday, at the Salvation Army, at 946 New Hampshire St. Claypool, who has been homeless since 1985, recently secured housing with the help of Taylor and a housing program called Project Able, which is a collaborative effort through the Salvation Army and the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.

“I did the jig, I was so happy. Hopefully I don’t have to go another winter out in the cold,” he beamed.

The last time Claypool was able to rent an apartment was in 1985, 28 years ago. This time, Claypool and Carol Taylor, a case manager at The Salvation Army who assisted him in securing housing, are determined to help him not only keep his apartment, but to become self sufficient. Their secret weapon? Financial literacy.

Claypool and other clients in The Salvation Army’s Project Able case management program were among the 20 people who took advantage of the Money Matters Self Sufficiency Class to gain a better understanding of the thorny personal financial issues that often capsize people’s attempts to move from homelessness to permanent housing.

The free four-part course, which digs into personal budgeting, renter rights, credit reports and debt repayment, was the result of a unique partnership between the United Way of Douglas County, Housing and Credit Counseling Inc., the Lawrence Community Shelter, Ballard Community Services and The Salvation Army.

As part of its new emphasis on promoting collaboration among social service agencies to reduce duplication of efforts, using resources more efficiently and serving a greater number of people, the United Way encouraged the agencies to discuss ways they could work together to better serve people in crisis.

The group identified financial literacy as a huge need for their clients. Handling complex financial situations was out of the purview of most case managers, yet was a critical piece in helping people overcome the barriers to finding and keeping housing. So the agencies decided to turn to the experts in the group — Housing and Credit Counseling Inc. — to provide the training their clients needed, freeing up case managers to focus on clients’ other needs.

Everyone took part to make the class a reality. HCCI provided the training. The Lawrence Community Shelter hosted the first class session in April, and The Salvation Army will host the second in October. Ballard Community Services offered to cover child care. And United Way provided the funding.

“The vision was United Way’s, having the different agencies collaborate. To me, that made sense because it was the optimization of resources,” explains Anju Mishra, Lawrence branch manager for Housing and Credit Counseling Inc. “There are four partnering agencies, and three of the agencies, their main thing is they provide crisis resolution — food, shelter. This is like providing fish to people. We (HCCI) are an agency that is providing life skills, teaching people how to fish. We are now combining crisis management with life skills to see if it makes a difference in helping people stabilize their financial situation and move toward self sufficiency.”

“Money and time are finite resources, but working together, that provides infinite opportunities,” says Erika Dvorske, president and CEO of United Way of Douglas County. “If we can share the responsibilities for providing families with the tools to be financially independent, then we can spend our limited resources serving more people. These partnerships take time and money, but if more people are moving to self-sufficiency because of it, then it is the right thing to do.”

The Salvation Army case managers, who attended the classes along with their clients, wasted no time in putting the knowledge they gained into action. Case managers met with their clients and came up with action plans, like creating personal budgets.

“We are excited to provide more in-depth information to help people achieve their goals,” says Marisa McCluer, corps officer for The Salvation Army. “Before the class, when I thought of the word ‘finances’ you think ‘frustrations.’ We tried to provide as much help and information as we had ourselves. We tried to guide the process as much as we could with the tools we had. Now, with the classes, we are on the road to thinking ‘freedom’ because we have all the resources, knowledge and information to move our clients from A to B.”

Now that he finally has a home of his own, Claypool wants to keep it. So he’s working with Taylor to develop a plan for handling his finances more wisely.

“I’ve never had a budget or anything like that,” Claypool explains. “I’m bad at it – I’m real bad at it. Once it’s in my pocket, it’s gone. I learned quite a bit in the class.”