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Many people in our community think of WayForward Resources as a food pantry.

While WayForward (formerly Middleton Outreach Ministry) is home to one of the largest food pantries in Dane County, it also operates housing stability programs that provide case management, referrals and financial assistance. This support helps families stay in their homes so they avoid the trauma of homelessness. Last year we provided assistance to more than 600 households.

There is a housing crisis in our community. The most significant shortages are among rental units affordable for the lowest-income renters, according to the city of Madison’s most recent Housing Snapshot Report. In fact, a recent study found that Madison is the fifth-most competitive small rental market in the United States. 

Why? There is simply not enough housing to accommodate the growth. Madison is on the cusp of a population explosion. The metro area is expected to add 115,000 residents between 2020 and 2050, a 42% increase. Housing experts project the community will need at least 10,000 new homes every five years to keep up, and the development of new housing has not kept pace with these projections. 

One of the challenges to building enough housing is the high cost of building new apartments, driven by competition for land, drastic construction cost increases since the pandemic, limited federal funds for supporting affordable housing, and zoning restrictions. As a result, the affordable housing sector has seen an average cost increase of around 30%, according to industry leaders.

Projects that secured low-income housing tax credits since 2019 have found themselves facing unexpected financial shortfalls, leading many to seek additional funding sources to bridge these gaps. Affordable housing developers need to find money to subsidize rental costs on behalf of future residents in addition to money to build the building.

One of the ways that WayForward Resources supports the creation of more affordable housing in our community is by partnering with developers who are building through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. WayForward currently has active partnerships with two developers. We also provide housing stability and food security supports to residents at 15 different LIHTC developments in our housing service area of West Madison, Middleton and Cross Plains (our food pantry serves all of Dane County).  

In the fall, WayForward joined the celebration of the opening of Uno Terrace, one of west Madison’s most recent LIHTC projects, developed with Northpointe Development, under the leadership of Principal Sean O’Brien. The housing project on Mineral Point Road has 64 units and is designed to serve those making between 30% and 80% of Dane County’s median household income. 

Most importantly, the rents in the building don’t exceed more than 30% of a tenant’s wages. Affordable housing costs less than 30% of household income, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The units are located on the Bus Rapid Transit line that is under construction and within walking distance to grocery stores and schools.

At Uno Terrace, Housing Stability Director Taylor Rozman (at right in the photo) worked with the city of Madison, the developer, and the property manager to pave the way for Case Manager Claire Baker (at left) to support low-income new residents as they moved into their new apartments. WayForward also provides ongoing case management and access to other services, including our food pantry. This is one of many similar partnerships WayForward has in the community, including in Middleton.

The development even incorporated the 1890s stone farm house — previously a Uno Pizzeria restaurant — and converted the local west side landmark into a community room. Over the Thanksgiving weekend last fall, according to a recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal, several families reserved the space for their holiday celebrations.

Celebrating major events at home in community with others. That’s the ultimate reflection of WayForward’s vision of building a community where everyone has the stability to thrive.

Lia and Sofia* had only a few things in common when they first met.

They were both mothers of young children and had come from the same country. They were also doubled up together in the apartment of someone they did not know very well.

With support from their case manager, they decided to become roommates when they enrolled in WayForward’s Connections program. The move allowed the two families to leave their overcrowded living situation.

In June 2022, WayForward launched the Connections Program to focus on people who are living doubled up without housing of their own. Since then, 16 families have graduated from the program and no longer need financial assistance from WayForward. Now, with help from a new pilot program grant from the Dane County Department of Human Services, Connections is expanding to help more double-up households find stability.

Over the last year, Lia and Sofia worked with the Connections case manager on budgeting, tools for being reliable tenants and understanding lease agreements. The case manager works with program participants in obtaining stable housing, and helps them navigate issues like a lack of credit and rental history. Households stay in the program for 12 months, with financial assistance decreasing over the course of the year as participants become self-sufficient in their new housing.

Both women have found work and more recently, they parted ways as roommates to move into housing of their own. They remain friends and recently shared updates with their case manager.

“We will always be grateful for your support,” Lia wrote. “We are all very stable and grateful to you for all the hard work.”

“I wanted to let you know that I have already moved with my son to our new apartment and everything is going well, thank God,” Sofia wrote. “We have work, health and stability. We are very grateful for all the support you have given us since the first day we met you.”

*names and identifying details changed

A year-end message from WayForward Executive Director Ellen Carlson

At WayForward, we believe that when everyone has access to key building blocks for stability, we can transform our community into the kind of place we want it to be. 

This year has presented many challenges to this vision of our community. When I sat down to write this letter last year, our food pantry was providing the equivalent of 54,000 meals per month. Now we’re distributing 115,000 per month. We see the same pressure on our housing stability programs, setting a record for the amount of financial assistance we provided in November.

When I look ahead I see no sign of the demand plateauing.

Numbers like these can be overwhelming. But I’m sharing them with you because they tell us a lot about what is happening in our community. And these numbers represent the experiences of people in our community: people who are standing in line outside in the cold two hours before our food pantry opens and people who are sitting in our lobby waiting to meet with case managers to discuss housing assistance. 

Experts report the rise in demand is due to the end of pandemic-era support, general inflation and the steep increase in housing costs in our community, which causes people to focus even more of their income on paying rent. We have never turned anyone away from getting food, but we have had to put some limits on the amount of food people can take. We worry about how we and other local food pantries can continue to ensure that everyone in our community has access to nutritious food.

It is hard to hear these things. But this challenging moment also includes milestones to celebrate. 

In the week prior to Thanksgiving, about 3,000 people received food from our pantry, including additional ingredients needed to make holiday meals for their families. We are on track to distribute the equivalent of more than one million pounds of food this year.

More than 600 households received financial assistance last year. As the Madison area continues to experience some of the highest rent increases in the country, this support allowed families to avoid eviction and stay in their homes, where they can eat dinner together and have a place for kids to do homework at night. In addition, the first participants have graduated from our Connections program, which means over the last year they have transitioned from doubled-up housing into homes of their own and no longer need financial assistance.

Your support is how we have continued to meet the need up to this point and stay focused on our mission. You ensure that families have access to nutritious food, including the nearly 3,000 people who received food for holiday meals. Your support also meant more than 600 students started the school year with backpacks loaded with the supplies they needed and 1,700 people received gift cards to help stretch their dollars a little farther this holiday season.

Every day, I am grateful for our volunteers, who have grown in numbers and put in more hours this year than last year. They adapt to our changing needs and adjust their to-do lists to tackle what is needed. We see so much patience and generosity as they work to help ensure people have critical access to food. I’m also thankful for the people in our community who recognize the impact of our work and serve as powerful advocates for WayForward and the people we serve. We will continue to need your strong voices in the year to come so our neighbors can go to bed at night knowing local food pantries – the last safety net for the most basic of all needs – will still be able to serve them.

There are a number of ways you can still make a tax deductible financial donation this year. Donations of your time and food can also make an immediate difference, including buying items directly from our wish list listed on our website, to help us continue to offer a variety of options to the people who visit our pantry.

By joining forces to provide our time, expertise, and resources, we can provide more people access to nutritious food and stable housing.

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Moving to Dane County promised a brighter future for David*, a single father with two young children.

He had been accepted to UW-Madison to study special education, a field with strong employment prospects after graduation. David also secured a full-time job to provide for his kids, Michael and Sara. But despite working day and night juggling school and work, David was in danger of falling behind on rent and losing the stable home he was building for his children.

Rent has risen faster here than anywhere else in the country, which threatened the dream David was working so hard to reach. A friend referred him to WayForward Resources, where a case manager connected David with rental assistance from our Housing Stability Program so he could maintain a home for his young children.

WayForward provided David with much-needed relief and peace of mind that allowed him to focus on getting his degree and taking care of his kids.

Thanks to our programs, David believes our community is where his dreams for his young family can become a reality. “I moved to Madison for a better and happier life; we felt as if we fit in.”

*name and identifying details changed

When Rafa*, 21, and his younger sister Gabriela, 19, came to WayForward, they were staying in an overcrowded apartment with a relative.

The siblings have lived in the United States for a couple of years while their parents remained in Mexico due to immigration issues. In the meantime, the environment they were living in became increasingly hostile and complicated. It did not feel like home.

A community member referred Rafa and Gabriela to WayForward’s Connections Program, which assists people in doubled-up living situations with finding and moving into homes of their own. With support from WayForwards’s Connections bilingual case manager, the two young adults learned everything about the process of finding housing, including what to look for and potential costs.

Within the first month, WayForward found an apartment that was perfect for them, both in price and location. They moved in over the summer and, after a long and complicated journey, they are motivated about the future and working hard on their next steps to be stable.

For Rafa and Gabriela, having a case manager who speaks their language and understands their culture meant the world as they navigated this major step to adulthood. They trust that their future is off to a great start and they don’t feel alone anymore. 

In the words of the community member who has kept in touch with the brother and sister over the last year: “You guys are changing lives.”

*names and identifying details changed

 

Tania* was preparing to start her last year of college when she was laid off from the job she counted on to cover the rent on her apartment.

She was on the path to becoming a teacher. Her landlord suggested reaching out to WayForward for help.

Tania received financial assistance from WayForward’s Housing Stability Program that allowed her to stay in her apartment while she looked for a new job and start the academic year without the stress of facing eviction.

Thanks to your support and commitment, last year we provided financial assistance and case management to more than 600 households, key tools to helping them stay in their homes.

 

*name and identifying details changed

Our Connections housing program helps families move out of doubled-up living situations. Your support helps the program provide security deposits, household items and other support to ensure stability. One participant, who was able to move with her family into an apartment of their own before the birth of her second child, shared her experience in the program with her Connections case manager, Nicole Verhagen.

What did it mean to bring your new baby home to your very own apartment after having to double up with another family for a period of time?

Having our own space has meant that our baby can grow up in a better environment where there is tranquility, peace and joy.

What are the most important ways WayForward has helped your family?

Everything they have done has been very important, because they have been with us unconditionally. They helped me a lot during all the stages of my pregnancy and until the birth
of my baby and I will forever be thankful for this opportunity. It has been a relief to have this unconditional help.

How do you feel about your family’s future now?

By connecting with WayForward one finds a horizon, an unconditional help. I feel very happy, with many expectations, eager to move forward and with the hope that in the future we will be in a position where we can help other families with that same compassion that we have received.

What are your dreams for yourselves and your kids going forward?

My dream is that my children will grow in a stable environment, so that they can focus on their studies and that they can grow as people with good values. It is my hope that they fill themselves with good knowledge and
compassion so that they can have a good future.

Our Connections program is featured in a new cover story by The Capital Times about the growth of doubled-up homelessness for youth and families in our community and how organizations including MOM are raising awareness and resources to address the issue. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 7,450 students enrolled in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District and 109 (1.5%) of those students identified as homeless, according to CPI data.

In the 2019-2020 school year, 56 out of the 7,534 students (.7%) enrolled identified as homeless.

Similar to patterns in MMSD, 50% of the homeless students were Black, while those students made up just 4.6% of the overall population; 10.7% of homeless students were Hispanic, a group that made up 8.9% of the overall population; and 10.7% of homeless students identified as two or more races, nearly double the 5.5% of the overall student population.

Nicole Verhagen, the case manager for the Connections Program, said one of the barriers people face in their journeys to secure, stable housing is language. Spanish-speaking households can have difficulties securing housing.

Verhagen supports program participants in obtaining stable housing, and helps them navigate issues like a lack of credit and rental history.

“The nice thing about this program is that they’re going to be working with me for 12 months,” she said. “If there’s an emergency, we have the capacity to be there to support to prevent the eviction.”

Verhagen works to prioritize building relationships with private landlords, who can sometimes be hesitant to work with programs like Connections because they are fearful of having tenants who won’t be able to pay rent.

“I’m hoping they get a little bit more comfortable and have more tools to show them why it’s OK,” she said. “Because it’s (about) understanding that housing is a human right. And everyone deserves an opportunity to not be under that stress of worrying about what’s going to happen.”

Ellen Carlson, the executive director of MOM, said although the Connections Program is fairly new, she has seen its effect. She said the organization is helping people understand how to navigate systems they might not otherwise.

“We all have been in situations in life where we need a person beside us to help us figure out how to move forward,” Carlson said. “I think that’s one of the things I love about this, is that Nicole is that person. When people are like, ‘I don’t know who to go to, what am I supposed to do next?’

“To have that person is such a value.”

This year was about opening doors, with acts both large and small.

For Luis and Alejandra, getting out of an unstable, doubled up living situation was the most important door they walked through. Because of the case management and financial support they receive from our Connections housing program, they are financially stable and could afford to buy a car seat and other essentials they needed to safely bring their new baby boy home last month.

None of this could happen without you. As we cautiously and carefully opened up along with the rest of the world in 2022, the generosity of our community is what continues to allow us to provide the resources and tools neighbors need to build stability in their lives.

Late summer we returned to a full schedule of food pantry hours, which allowed more clients to shop in person and we continue to provide around 54,000 meals a month. We grew our Connections program, which moves neighbors like Luis and Alejandra into stable housing (read a recent story from The Capital Times that features Connections). And we welcomed both new and returning volunteers, who provide essential support by stocking shelves, making food deliveries and offering rides to seniors who don’t have access to other transportation.

Nicole Verhagen, the case manager for Connections. Photo by Ruthie Hauge/The Capital Times

With the help of our community, we have stretched our resources to meet the rising demand at the food pantry, which is more than double what it was this time last year, part of a larger trend across Dane County as inflation drives up food prices. We’ve seen a similar increase in the need for housing assistance to families whose incomes don’t keep up with rising rents and the amount of housing stability payments we provide have doubled as our case managers continue to work to prevent eviction. “We wouldn’t have been able to make it without you,” one of our food pantry clients wrote in a recent email.

As we move into 2023, these ongoing trends bring me concern. Although our community food security partners continue to support our work and help us meet the need creatively, the pandemic brought great disruption to how we bring in food. This, combined with the rising demand, means I see emptier shelves when I walk through the food pantry, not the robust selection that provides dignity to our shoppers. I worry that these patterns will not leave us enough food to meet the needs of everyone who relies on the food pantry as one of the ways they fill their refrigerators and cupboards.  

But I see hope all around us, in acts large and small… Since we re-opened our doors in June to in-person shopping in the food pantry, MOM volunteers have put in more than 13,000 hours to support our programs. Their own lives disrupted, returning volunteers and people new to MOM made this work a piece of their lives. And thanks to you, we also made the holiday season brighter this year for hundreds of households — distributing Thanksgiving baskets to more than 1,200 people and providing more than 1,700 gift cards through our Winter Wishes program, a record number for us.

On a much smaller scale, when one of our team members recently learned that a gallon of milk was left out of a food delivery made to one of our clients, she hopped in her car and delivered the milk within the hour. For some of the neighbors we serve, getting to the food pantry isn’t possible due to lack of transportation, health concerns or work schedules. “What a sweetie. I was so glad to meet her face to face,” the client wrote in an email. “I nearly cried.”

Through all of these transitions, I’ve witnessed our team keep their focus on what matters most — doing what we can to ensure that neighbors in our community have what they need to thrive. I’ve seen the same from all of you — through your generous financial donations, volunteer hours and ongoing support of our mission. As we approach a new year, I know there is so much more we can achieve together. You can read more about some of the ways you can still make a tax deductible financial donation this year here. And, in addition, if your own circles can host a food drive or buy items directly from our wish list to help us keep our shelves full, it would bring comfort to so many.

Thank you for what you have done and what you will do in the coming year to help us meet the growing needs in our community. Your support means we can continue opening the door to stability for neighbors so that together we will build a better future for everyone in our community.

Sincerely,

Ellen Carlson, Executive Director

Executive Director Ellen Carlson. Photo by Ruthie Hauge/The Capital Times

Luis and Alejandra left behind an unstable economic and political situation in Venezuela with dreams of a better life for their 8-year-old daughter and the baby they were soon expecting. They did not have the references or credit history required to rent an apartment, so they doubled up with another family from their home country. But Alejandra didn’t feel comfortable living with strangers and her daughter couldn’t play freely without Alejandra worrying she was making too much noise for their hosts.

Luis found work after the family’s first week in the community, and Alejandra started working at the same restaurant when they quickly realized one income would not be enough to pay rent. But landlords still wanted evidence of at least a month of income before they would offer them a lease. Once a social worker in their daughter’s school connected the couple with a MOM case manager, things started to look up. Their case manager has developed a strong working relationship with a management company, which agreed to accept a letter from the couple’s employer as proof of their employment and income. MOM’s Connections housing program covered the family’s security deposit and other move-in costs. And thanks to the generosity of MOM donors who purchased items from our Connections wish list, Luis and Alejandra had the basic items they needed to start making themselves at home when they moved into their new apartment this fall, including sheets, towels and dishes.

The family visits MOM’s Food Pantry and Clothing Center to make sure their daughter has warm clothes to wear this winter and nutritious food to eat. Alejandra feels genuinely welcomed and supported by the volunteers when she does her shopping. The family is grateful for the generosity of their new community where they are beginning to put down roots and begin to thrive. Their new baby boy arrived this fall.