Partnership matters. It’s just a fact that we can do more together than we can separately.
Synchrony Foundation and United Way have been partners for many years. Whether that’s through raising nearly $1 million for United Way and other charities through the annual Synchrony Employee Giving Campaign or investing more than 42,000 hours of volunteering each year, Synchrony Foundation and United Way are working together to improve communities where our employees live and work.
Synchrony’s signature philanthropy program, Families That Work, provides basic needs to low- and moderate-income working families, families who work hard every day, but still have a hard time making ends meet. Both Synchrony Foundation and United Way believe in strengthening families and we’re working together to prevent family homelessness, support out-of-school care for kids, support hunger programs and investing in programs that provide economic security for families.
Our focus is on family homelessness, and the statistics are grim:
- In the U.S., approximately 60,000 families with children (about one-third of the overall homeless population) experience homelessness on a given night.
- Nationwide, school districts report an increase in the number of students who are homeless at some point during the school year.
- Children experiencing housing instability are more vulnerable to and experience higher rates of mental health problems, developmental delays, poor cognitive outcomes and depression.
- Homeless students are more likely to lag behind their peers academically, drop out – and experience homelessness as a young adult.
In 2015, Synchrony began supporting family homeless prevention efforts in Connecticut through the work of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and its work to develop a coordinated entry system with Connecticut 211 as a way to effectively centralize the intake process and divert families from homelessness. Synchrony strongly believes that we have the greatest capacity to break the cycle of family homelessness by supporting the technical systems needed to assist families, the training to create excellent diversion counseling and the resources to provide emergency assistance that keeps families in their homes, when appropriate. This is why in 2019, with support from Neeraj Mehta, EVP and CEO of Payment Solutions at Synchrony and also the chair of the United Way U.S.A Board of Trustees, we expanded our work from Connecticut and launched a new project helping United Way take a deeper dive into tackling family homelessness by partnering with 211s across the country. Synchrony Foundation and United Way are piloting innovative strategies to help families who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness.
In many communities, 211 is the hub connecting millions of people to critical resources every day. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. In 2018, the 211 network (half of which is led by United Way) responded to more than 12 million requests for assistance across the United States, according to United Way. Some 2.5 million – or 21.4% – were requests for housing help, up 2% from the year before.
Just as 211 provides unique insights into America’s needs, it’s also mission-critical to figuring out new, community-based approaches to preventing family homelessness. That’s why Synchrony Foundation is investing in multiple pilot initiatives led by United Way. Together, we’re testing and finetuning solutions to help reduce family homelessness that can be replicated across the country:
- In North Carolina, the statewide NC211, led by United Way, is working on ways to leverage 211 as the primary entry point for people needing help with housing across each of the 100 counties across the state. Ease of access to the coordinated entry process will be coupled with emergency assistance funds to divert families on the brink of homelessness.
- The Arizona Crisis Response Network, which operates the state’s 211 service, is testing a family homelessness diversion hotline supporting virtual case management and navigation services for under-resourced, rural communities in four counties.
- In Minnesota, the Greater Twin Cities United Way is building a coordinated entry process to help ensure families get connected to all the prevention resources they need to stay in their homes or and avoid entering the shelter system.
In all three states, resources are allocated toward diverting families from homelessness and ensuring they have access to the skills and support they need to build their own personal plans for identifying or maintaining safe housing.
All too often, homelessness is a symptom of other root causes and we know that the solutions are far more complex than securing a bed in a homeless shelter for the night, which is another reason we choose to work directly with 211. When a client dials 211 for support with housing, they not only have access to the vast array of 211 resources but also to trained, caring 211 specialists who can take a deeper dive into the wider needs and challenges surrounding the family.
It will be some time before we know which solutions work best for urban, rural or statewide communities, but we’ll be learning in the meantime and identifying patterns across the states. This project entails the hosting of a monthly learning collaborative, the engagement of subject matter experts and the creation of a resource toolkit and best practices that will be used to support the more than 240 call centers run by 211 nationwide. And, I’m happy to announce that Synchrony Foundation will be expanding our partnership and work with United Way 211s to other states in 2020.
This aligns perfectly with Synchrony’s spirit of caring and with our company’s commitment to support today’s low- and moderate-income working families. What can you do? Find out more about 211 here. And check in with your local United Way to find out how you can volunteer, give or speak out for initiatives that are preventing or reducing family homelessness.