Leslie Evans has been a social worker for over 20 years, working for many nonprofit organizations that focus on housing for the homeless and those in jeopardy of becoming homeless. For seven of these years, she worked on Skid Row, learning the intricacies of building partnerships for housing and providing resources to keep people permanently housed.
Recognizing that the Inland Empire region was in need of an organization with a focused mission of providing housing navigation and intensive case management, she founded With Open Arms, inc. in 2020. While the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges to getting programming launched, in the last two years, the organization has helped 100 individuals become permanently housed.
Based out of Rialto, With Open Arms, Inc. advocates for and provides stable housing for unaccompanied adults, seniors, k-12 student and their families. The organization also works with transitional-aged foster youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. With Open Arms, Inc. works with clients throughout San Bernardino County and plans to expand into Riverside County.
“What’s different is we really do intensive handholding to get them to the next step,” Evans said. “Our goal is getting them permanent housing and increasing their income.”
Currently, the organization has a contract with Rialto Unified School District to assist students who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and their families through McKinney-Vento Act Funding. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act which was signed into law in 1987, ensures the immediate school enrollment of homeless students, their right to remain in their school of origin, the right to transportation to and from school and their right to receive support for academic success.
“It was surprising to me that the schools and families were unaware of the assistance,” Evans said. “There are families who are living without a home and their kids are coming to school, but no one talks about it. They are afraid their children would be taken away because they are homeless.”
With Open Arms, Inc. receives referrals through the student services department and works with the family to secure a 90-day hotel stay. From there, those families have a full-scope housing assessment. Their needs, barriers, income, household size, credit and more are assessed in a full-scope interview. They are then connected to resources in which they meet the criteria and receive one-on-one assistance to navigate applying for assistance. This includes assistance with substance abuse, mental health and additional systems that will help stabilize the family.
The organization also works outside of the McKinney-Vento Act population, receiving referrals from the community. One family, referred by a local church in the City of San Bernardino, had been living out of their truck for three years. Based on a history of substance abuse, incarceration, poor credit history, evictions and living on a single fixed income, they were a tough case according to Evans. It took nine months, but the organization was able to work with a partner landlord and find them secure housing in Barstow. Today, they have been housed for 18 months. They are paying their bills, the father has a job and their minor daughter is now stable in school.
Recently, With Open Arms, Inc. received a grant from the Black Equity Initiative Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. As a new organization, With Open Arms, Inc. is in need of more support to grow and always welcomes volunteers. Evans would especially love to work with college students who are in need of social work hours to help with case management.
“We are here and we are here not only to service the McKinny-Vento population, but to provide all services for anyone who meets the criteria,” Evans said.
More information: https://www.withopenarms.us/ or 909-789-0109
This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise June 2023.
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