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Preventing homelessness through education? Home of the Sparrow shows how it works

Everyone who has navigated the college system or vocational training programs knows how daunting it can be to secure funding for education, meet prerequisites, write applications and most of all – make the right choice.

For many single women and mothers in our programs, this is not the only obstacle to furthering their education.

Fire-fighting mode

Research shows that living in poverty takes an extraordinary amount of mental ‘bandwidth’. According to Princeton University professor of psychology and public policy Eldar Shafir and Harvard University economist Sendhil Mullainathan, poverty causes us to have tunnel vision.  We remain in a constant fire-fighting mode, where we can only focus on the immediate problem in front of us.

Often-times, our program participants have to juggle scarce resources. They have to decide between paying rent, taking their sick child to the doctor or buying food. When we are constantly worried about money, our cognitive power is compromised. Building a future becomes a secondary thought.

Ending the cycle of poverty

Home of the Sparrow was one of the first agencies in this area to draw attention to the nexus between education, housing and financial instability. Safe housing is difficult to afford without education, and education is out of reach without stable housing.

Our Supportive Housing Program ends this perpetuous cycle.  It allows single women and mothers to use their energy towards education and to improve their employment opportunities and income. Without the fear of losing their homes, program participants can work with our program coordinators and education and college counselor. Together, they identify and achieve their educational and professional goals.

Our approach

In addition to individual coaching for single women and mothers, we offer college and education workshops for mothers to better support their children. As Pat Sincavage, certified college counselor said at our recent college prep workshop:

“Every child has gifts and talents and it is our task as parents to nurture them, to open doors for them and to help them figure out a path that will give them financial independence, fulfillment and the life they want.”

Pat Sincavage

Research shows just how important a strong support network is in gaining further education. A study from 2013 demonstrated that even small interventions can make a difference. It can increase a high-school graduate’s chance to go to college by 20%.

“The reality is, people of all income levels need support to do all sorts of complicated tasks,” says Elizabeth Morgan, director of external relations at the National College Access Network in Washington, D.C.

Finally, Jessica a former program participant who grew up on the brink of homelessness told us:

“When I came to Home of the Sparrow, I just couldn’t afford even a small apartment for me and my three kids. My Program Coordinator gave me a lot of support in finding a way for me to increase my income. I am now a Certified Childcare Development Associate on a management track and able to provide for my family.”

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