Tell us about yourself.
My name is Beth Vann-Turnbull and I’m the Executive Director of Housing Families First. I’m a native of Virginia and attended the University of Richmond. I have spent the past 20+ years working in nonprofit organizations in Georgia and Virginia, specifically in smaller nonprofits that provide housing and healthcare opportunities for underserved families.
What is the focus of your work and the need you are addressing?
Housing Families First provides families experiencing homelessness with the tools to achieve housing stability. Founded in 2001 as Hilliard House, our organization offers safe, supportive shelter for families. But, we do much more. Quickly stabilizing families in permanent housing is our top priority.
We carry out this mission through two programs. The first is Hilliard House, the onsite shelter that was the original core program to house homeless women and their children. The facility now provides safety and support as a short-term emergency shelter program for families of all compositions – including those headed by single moms, single dads, and two-parent or multi-generational families. The second program is Building Neighbors, our rapid re-housing program that provides families with supportive services and temporary financial assistance to move into an affordable home of their own.
ABOVE: A video by HFF. Did you know that more than 100 Richmond children are sleeping in emergency shelters, cars and other temporary spaces?
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding parts of my job at Housing Families First are working with a dedicated, talented staff and Board and witnessing families succeed in overcoming immense challenges to secure permanent housing. A stable home is the foundation that makes other dreams possible for children and their parents.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
Over the past five years, Housing Families First changed its entire housing structure from a costly transitional housing model for women with children to a dual-program, Housing First approach that quickly places families of all compositions into safe, permanent housing. This transformation enabled us to serve eight times as many new families each year at a cost that is over 60% less per household.
The decision to change our core program, Hilliard House, from transitional housing to emergency shelter while implementing a proven new re-housing program was the right decision for families in our region, but it came at a high cost to our agency. We had to successfully raise $150,000 in private shelter funding to help us bridge an 18-month public funding gap. I started work at Housing Families First during that gap, and it was extremely difficult. There were many days I felt I was not up to the task. But, I relied on the wisdom the Board, the commitment of the staff, colleagues in the field, and lessons learned from previous jobs to help me chart a path to sustainability. Thanks to the generosity of the community, Housing Families First was able to bridge our funding gap and deliver high-quality housing services while never closing a single shelter bed.
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
I think that many people might be surprised to know that Housing Families First has more than a quarter of all the emergency shelter beds for families who are homeless in the region, that we are the only fully-handicapped accessible shelter for women and families, and that over 350 children and adults receive housing services in our programs each year. But, what we are most proud of is our outcomes – nearly 90% of all the households referred to us move into permanent housing, and 85% of the families we house have not returned to homelessness when we check in more than a year after they leave our program.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
Since the key to long-term housing stability for our families is income, we are currently focusing a lot time and energy in building innovative partnerships with employers and workforce programs to help families increase their household earnings. We are currently exceeding the regional targets on this measure, but we know we can do even more to support families in raising their income.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Housing Families First is currently in the midst of a strategic planning process facilitated by The Spark Mill. While our plans are not yet solidified, we know we want to explore creative partnerships with high quality childcare programs, so that our parents have the support and confidence they need to secure and maintain good jobs. I think that we have some exciting collaborations on the horizon!
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
We utilize ConnectVA to advertise open positions and follow the daily ConnectVA Update emails to stay abreast of upcoming workshops and events, as well as follow news from fellow RVA nonprofits. We look to The Community Foundation not only for funding, but also for insights into regional funding trends, capacity building opportunities, and thoughtful feedback on our organizational goals.
Anything else you would like to share?
Sometimes, we at Housing Families First feel like a well-kept secret. That’s not our goal! If you don’t know about us, or if you haven’t been to our facilities in a while, please come take a tour and learn what we’re doing now and how you can be part of the story.