The power was off during the grand opening of Upward Bound House's new Family Shelter, but there was a lot of daylight in the eighteen brand new rooms. And, as though to compensate for the lack of electricity, while on a walk-through to meet the designers of each room, a visitor could feel the buzzing energy of community and of creativity.
The idea for Family Shelter was simple enough. Upward Bound House, a Santa Monica-based agency, is experienced in providing transitional housing for homeless families with children. They have a 21-unit facility in Santa Monica that helps homeless families get back on their feet. The families can stay there for as long as a year. The success rate for those families later obtaining and keeping permanent housing? Ninety-five percent, according to Upward Bound's numbers.
Sounds good. But could you achieve similar success over a 90-day period instead of a year? Upward Bound has "beta tested" that idea already, by giving families in need of housing special vouchers to live in motels for 90 days until they get their lives together. Living in motels, though, doesn't always address a family's need for counseling and support. Upward Bound specializes in supported housing -- you get a roof over your head, but you also get case workers checking in on you to see if you're stable and thriving. The motel plan was a good beta test but it wasn't the perfect path to a comprehensive plan to address family needs. There had to be a better way.
Well, why not buy a motel, redesign it from the outside in and start a new Family Shelter in Culver City? That's exactly what Upward Bound did. The Family Shelter grand opening happened last month and attracted a crowd of social activists, politicos and some of LA's best-known designers. Take a look at this short video to hear the designers speak about the experience in their own words. Each of the eighteen rooms was designed by a different designer with a singular vision.
The event was inspiring, but now it's down to business, finishing up the exterior of the building, and settling the 18 families into Family Shelter for the first 90-day cycle. Upward Bound has a screening process to pick the right families. "We work with partner agencies, like Beyond Shelter and St. Joseph Center. Case managers with those organizations know about Upward Bound and "they refer people to us," says David Snow, executive director of Upward Bound House. After the initial referrals, Upward Bound does another level of candidate screening to insure a good fit. To get into Family Shelter you have to have a job and be free of substance abuse issues or receiving counseling.
"The people we serve have the fundamentals. They need a safe place where they can recover. These are families with kids. They are not looking for a hand out. They want their own home. That's who we serve best."
-- David Snow, Upward Bound House
Children, as David Snow has found with Upward Bound, can be the innocent victims of misfortune or bad decisions made by their parents. "For us it's about kids. We are geared toward the kids in family dynamics. We offer parenting management and anger management to help with kids going through crisis. We offer tutoring and mentoring, arts programs and enrichment programs. Not many programs out there focus on kids."
Focusing on kids makes economic sense. Truancy, public health services and incarceration can make for a big bill for all to pay. Catch problems early, it's a good deal for society. "Wait until later, and you've got bigger problems," says Snow.
Snow sees an opportunity for Upward Bound to provide more emergency and transitional services. These services, he says, are the missing link to families receiving permanent housing. He's looking at partnering Upward Bound with developers or buying existing facilities to get that going. Upward Bound should find a welcome reception -- its facilities look like high-end town homes or apartments.