Classes aid homeless women

This was published in the Home News Tribune on March 19th. It is an example of the private sector helping the homeless.

Classes aid homeless women
Home News Tribune Online 03/19/07

To help people without a home, you need two things: passion and human resources. At least, that’s the way Beth Degnan sees it.

For her, homeless people “need to recover their confidence and self-esteem” in order to get the credit necessary to buy their own home. Degnan is the president of the Affinity Foundation, which offers education for homeless people to help them acquire the knowledge they need to become financially capable in the future.

“I direct the financial program,” says Degnan. “The Affinity Foundation supports the Amandla Crossing program, which offers transitional housing for homeless women and children.”

In this way, women with children who do not have their own home learn to work during the transition to then begin functioning on their own and re-enter society. The financial program of the Affinity Foundation, a branch of the Affinity Federal Credit Union cooperative, works in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Middlesex Interfaith Partners with the Homeless, or MIPH, in the Amandla Crossing Transitional Housing program. Affinity allows the homeless to obtain the know-how they need to understand how financial services work to become homeowners.

“It is part of the mission of our credit institution,” says Degnan. “We have groups of volunteers, including teachers. The program is now in its third year.”

At the Amandla Crossing program, the women must sign up for the course, which lasts for one year. Some of the topics covered include: Financial Terms, Bank Accounts, Surviving as a Single Parent, Credit Cards, Loans, Checking Accounts, Checking Registry, ATM Transactions, Avoiding Dangerous Loans and The Monthly Madness of Money.

Degnan says the classes spark womens interests because they relate to real-life issues, covering everyday tasks that people must handle to manage their income and expenditures.

“In order to achieve power, they must first obtain financial independence,” says Degnan.

Some of the women who attend the courses are Latino or of Latino descent. Minerva Rodriguez, a member of the Affinity Foundation and a program educator, feels capable of helping such women thanks to the fact that she is bilingual and of Puerto Rican descent.

“There are some Hispanic women in the classes,” says Rodriguez. “I show them that they can have a new beginning.”

Since on occasion, financial terms can be confusing even in one’s native language, it is important to have the resources to fully understand the terminology. In this respect, Rodriguez is available and willing to help.

Degnan affirms that there is no language barrier.

“We have a class in which one-fourth of the women are Hispanic,” says Degnan. “We have instructors for that. We have Hispanics, Afro-Americans, white people, and all the ethnicities.”

In addition to breaking the cycle that leads to homelessness, the Amandla Crossing program and the Affinity Foundation help women get the education and training they need to end their dependence on public assistance.

The women who attend classes are not required to become co-op members, explains Johanna Romera, one of the supervisors of the Amandla Crossing program.

However, Romera believes women “can feel like they relate” to the organization. Her Latin roots — a Puerto Rican mother and a Dominican father — make it easier for her to establish a relationship with the women.

Besides Amandla Crossing, which has been operating since 1991 with 29 apartments, MIPH has another more recent transitional housing program called Imani Park. MIPH gets funding from different sources, explains Executive Director Andrea Krich.

Imani Park has 16 transitional housing apartments, although the transition period is longer — two years compared to one year at Amandla Crossing.

However, Krich says both programs give women what they need so they can be self-sufficient in the management of their new houses, which they can buy with the help of a coupon that is given to all women who finish the program.