Montgomery County Community Action

Montgomery County Community Action

Friday, November 21, 2014

Community Action Featured in Article About Homelessness in Montgomery County

Addressing Homelessness on the Home Front

Photo | Sharon Allen Gilder Denise Fredericks is executive director of the Stepping Stones Shelter that provides temporary shelter and services for families with children.
Photo | Sharon Allen Gilder
Denise Fredericks is executive director of the Stepping Stones Shelter that provides temporary shelter and services for families with children.

Statistics can be sobering, especially when they are on our home turf. According to the Montgomery County Community Action Board’s 2014 Faces of Poverty report, 6.9 percent or 69,376 of the county’s population of one million residents live below the Federal Poverty Line; 18.3 percent or 184,759 of the population live below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line; 14 percent of female-headed households live in poverty; and more children in Montgomery County (16.3 percent or 38,050 children) are food insecure than any other county in the state.
The county’s 2012 Self-Sufficiency Standard reports that it costs approximately $83,000 for a four-person family with two working parents, a preschooler and a school-age child to afford the basic necessities. This is four times the Federal Poverty Level.
“We need to get some gut checks,” said Denise Fredericks, executive director of Stepping Stones Shelter, a non-profit heavily reliant on corporate sponsors and the community for support. According to Fredericks, private funding accounts for nearly two-thirds of the shelter’s income. Additional funds are received from the county through contracts and grants, including small grants from the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg. “For families, it’s not who you think of who is homeless,” she said.
Fredericks added that most people understand homelessness as the homelessness they have seen. Family homelessness tends to be invisible because families live in cars or “couch surf” by moving from family to family or friend to friend to friend. “It’s not something where people say, ‘Oh, obviously that’s a homeless child that’s playing on the soccer team with my child.’ We’ve had a mom that was PTA president, and obviously you don’t know that they are living in a shelter. Street homelessness is ubiquitous. Family homelessness is not something that enters people’s consciousness. I think there’s also a feeling of impossibility that it can’t be that families are homeless in this community,” said Fredericks.
Since 1982, Rockville’s historic Dawson farmhouse has been the home of Stepping Stones Shelter. The circa 1912 home’s wide veranda and welcoming portal continues a tradition established 100 years ago. Legend has it that the Dawson’s Aunt Fanny wanted a porch on the house so she could watch the weary workers from the mills traveling along nearby Rockville Pike and invite them to rest a spell on the porch. The legacy of her gracious hospitality continues at the shelter whose slogan, “Moving families forward” drives the staff’s thought process. “It’s central to who we are because we can’t promise big outcomes because big outcomes come over time—the end zone is not something I can see in the period of time you are living with me … but every little step,” said Fredericks.
There are three family shelters in Montgomery County: Stepping Stones, Helping Hands, and Greentree in Bethesda. “We provide temporary shelter and services for families with children in an atmosphere of dignity and respect,” said Fredericks. The total capacity of the three shelters is 26 families. On any given day there are approximately 100 families in need of shelter. At the time of the interview, 52 families were in motels awaiting placement in a shelter. “To me, that’s an indication of what I refer to as homelessness as a math problem. The cost of living is high and the income available is not. So right there you can see where the gap is, it’s so contrary to what many people believe about homelessness. The families we serve are not lazy or crazy,” said Fredericks.
Stepping Stones serves as an emergency shelter for homeless families throughout Montgomery County who are referred after undergoing a screening process through the Department of Health and Human Services. If the family is approved through assessments and there is room, they can be placed at Stepping Stones up to 90 days.
“There has been a huge commitment on the part of the City of Gaithersburg to make sure their residents have access to all kinds of support services. We have a partnership with The Dwelling Place that provides transitional housing in scattered sites in the city. They’re providing the subsidy for families to be in their own housing and there’s the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless and their Partnership for Permanent Housing. We provide the whole continuum of services through the three agencies,” said Fredericks.
Maureen Herndon, City of Gaithersburg’s division manager for community services, said, “We’re so blessed in Montgomery County to have all these programs, but there are barriers with awareness, understanding, and how to get there—transportation is a problem. If a family can get into Stepping Stones, it’s wonderful because they help them know about resources and give them the support they need.”
‘Tis the season for giving, but homelessness doesn’t take a holiday, Fredericks said. Donations of gently used clothing, kitchenware, towels, sheets, shower curtains, trashcans, and basic necessities are always needed by the shelter as families re-establish their lives and households.
“Every success that we have, every family that moves out to new housing, every mom that gets a job, every person that can access mental health services—all of that is possible because the larger community supports the work that we do and we are grateful,” said Fredericks.
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