Friday, November 6, 2015

Much More Than a Pair of Boots – Back to Work for Just $69.78

One of the important new tools we use in helping individuals, who are experiencing homelessness, is the MDHA Flex Fund. The Flex Fund is designed to pay for minor, but impactful expenses, that help clients resolve their housing emergencies. We have written about this on our website, and in a number of instances on this blog, most recently in a posting titled, Not without Simon – Another Happy Flex Fund Story. Also, Courtney Collins interviewed Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO about this: Losing An Apartment Because You Can’t Pay The $45 Application Fee. The initial funding ($38,742) for the MDHA Flex Fund was generously given by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.  

Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots (Courtesy of Walmart)
In that interview, Cindy mentioned steel toe work boots as an example of an MDHA Flex Fund expense. In the article cited on our website, Kiley Gosselin tells us about a Gates Foundation supported five year pilot at the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence, that used a flexible funding mechanism. She also gives a steel toe work boot example:

One advocate cited an instance where a survivor had obtained a new job and spent her own funds for a new apartment and security deposits, but was told on her first day of work she needed to purchase steel-toed boots at a cost of $100 in order to keep the job. Just $100 of the pilot program funds allowed for the purchase of the boots, supporting her ability to maintain employment – critical to her ability to maintain stable housing. Without the flexibility to cover these minor but impactful expenditures, advocates are often challenged with having to identify new housing options for the survivor – a much more difficult and costly endeavor than a pair of boots. (Emphasis mine – DSG)

I was therefore excited when our Vice President, Rebecca Cox, walked in today, and shared our first very own steel toe work boot story!

One of the best things about the Flex Fund, is that it empowers arguably the most important persons working for non-profits – case managers. These frontline workers are the “tip of the spear” in the fight to end homelessness. This last Monday, Walter*, a case manager at Austin Street Center, was happy to hear from his client, Paul, that he had found a job, with a start date of the following Monday. However, Paul was required to show up on day one with Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots (cost - $69.78). Fortunately, unlike the program Gosselin mentions, at least they told him in advance! Paul told Walter, what Walter, as his case manager, knew already – Paul could not afford this expense. Walter also knew that Austin Street Center could pay for only certain things with the tight funding streams available to them. They could not pay for this type of expense.  

Walter spoke to Linda, his supervisor, and she suggested that the MDHA Flex Fund might be a good tool to use in this case. Linda reminded Walter, that they both would need to sign off not only on the well evident fact that this minor, but impactful expense, was vital to Paul’s path to resolving his housing emergency. They would also have to affirm that they knew of no other resource in the community, that could directly supply or pay for steel toe work boots. With some quick research, Walter and Linda discovered, what they had suspected already – that was indeed the case. The only quick and readily available resource for this type of minor, but impactful expense, was the MDHA Flex Fund. Walter and Linda filled out the simple one page Flex Fund request form, where they documented all of this, and sent it in to Rebecca. Paul had told them that the Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots were available at Walmart. Walter called Walmart, and asked them to put a pair on hold. Rebecca went to Walmart, paid for the boots out of the MDHA Flex Fund, and delivered them to Austin Street Center.

Paul is overjoyed with his new pair of boots, but what really makes him happy is the fact that he is on the road to self-sufficiency. With his new job, he will be able to get his life back on track. His already existing faith in Walter has grown even more, since he was able to help him get what he needed to begin new employment. He knows that with Walter’s help, he can achieve housing too. All of that – for just $69.78. Not a bad return on investment…  
* Names of the client, case manager and supervisor have been changed. Boots are actually named Herman…



  1. I run a small residential shelter called Laura's Shelter House in Worcester MA. We are not funded by the state or federal government. Because of this we may have to soon close for we are in need of roughly twenty thousand dollars to remain open. Are there any funding options you or your viewers are aware of that may help? We are on Facebook at

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