Escaping homelessness can feel impossible. This shelter's making it easier.

When you're homeless, finding a clean place where you feel safe can seem impossible.

Homeless shelters used to be nearly identical: they offered temporary shelter for a few hours a night. In most cities, people started lining up for shelters well before dusk. They'd get a meal and a few hours of sleep in a crowded room before being sent back out early in the morning. And shelter for the next night would not be guaranteed.

While these types of shelters certainly still exist, they’re no longer the only option. In fact, more and more city governments are changing the way they think about fighting homelessness, moving away from a model where temporary shelter is seen as a solution to situational and chronic homelessness and towards one where permanent housing and social support are the goals.


Transition Projects is one of the shelters that's on the precipice of this necessary change.

At Transition Projects in Portland, the goal isn’t simply to get people off the street. The organization is helping people regain hope, reclaim their dignity, and find long-term housing.

That journey begins with a safe environment that provides showers, a place to wash clothes, and a clean bed. Those may sound like simple things, but they're not often attainable for homeless people. The 24 hour shelters Transition provides allow them to take care of their hygienic needs, which can help them start their day feeling good. That outlook can be the catalyst they need to change their circumstances.

In Portland — where home prices have begun to be described as “unaffordable” — more than 4,000 people have no place to go on any given night. Many of these people are living with disabilities. Many are veterans. And most don’t have a safe, clean place to be during the day either.

Transition runs eight shelters in the city. Seven are open 24 hours, meaning that clients can come in and take advantage of services whenever they need them. And because Transition’s policy is built on meeting people where they’re at, clients can enter with their partners (many traditional shelters separate mixed-gender couples), their pets, and their possessions.

“When you're living on the street, you already have a lot of barriers. We want the least amount of barriers to keep you from coming inside and getting our help,” says Roma Peyser, Transition’s Director of Development.

One such barrier is the late in/early out policy of many traditional shelters. At Transition, the staff know that this model often doesn't provide enough support to help people change their circumstances.

People who come in tired at the end of the night aren't prepared to do anything other than sleep. However, if they’ve had a good night’s rest in a clean bed, the chance to take care of their basic hygienic needs, and know that they don’t have to leave immediately, they’re more likely to be open to assistance that can transform their lives. And Transition provides services that do just that right in their facilities.

“We only have one [shelter] that closes in the morning,” says Peyser. “That's it. The rest are all offering wraparound services. It gives us a chance to develop a relationship [with the client] and get a good understanding of what each person needs so that we can guide the case managers.”

With the 24-hour model, Transition’s been able to offer clients more programming than they might find elsewhere. This includes AA meetings, art therapy, and mental health support. They provide clients with peer support from mentors who have lived in the shelter. They work to connect clients with medical services, and they have case managers who help veterans learn about and receive their benefits.

Transition also runs a resource center during the day. It’s a clean space where people can come in, take a shower, take care of other basic needs like cleaning their clothes, get connected to a mental health counselor, and start working with a case manager to navigate the often difficult path to housing. The center allows participants to spend the day where they feel safe and supported — something many of us with homes can take for granted.

It's a testament to why clean matters* — it can be the difference between an ordinary day and one that puts you on the path to a better, brighter future.

Since approximately a quarter of Transition’s shelter participants are working, having a place where they can come in and leave their belongings not only helps them stay in the program, it reduces the stigma around homelessness. Transition’s goal is to end stigma while simultaneously providing services that clients need.

“We’ve flipped the way shelters work on its head,” Peyser says.

For many people, Transition has made a life-changing difference. The program helps more than 1,000 people a year find housing.

For the people who use the services Transition offers, being involved in a group, taking a class, or even using the computer lab is a step towards feeling like an integral member of society again. And being able to do that in a space that’s clean, bright and feels welcoming is just the beginning. What happens next means everything.

For Danita, a Transition client, having a place to go during both day and night meant that she could focus on getting a job. Now she’s a program manager who helps women find and maintain affordable housing. It’s thanks to Transition that she’s come to a place in her life where she can give back.

Jon and Jennifer used Transition’s day program because they knew that it was a place that they would always be welcomed. It’s where they showered and did laundry. It's where they took classes. When the couple decided to pursue long-term housing, they used Transition’s services to help them find and maintain it. After that milestone was achieved, Jennifer was reunited with her teen daughter (who now also lives with the couple).

Today, both partners work at Transition helping others who, like them, may only be looking for a warm, clean place to be for right now, but for whom a better future may be closer than they think.

“Housing is hope,” says Peyser. For the thousands upon thousands of people that Transition has helped, that hope starts with consistently open doors to a safe space.

* Clorox believes clean has the power to transforms lives, which is why they've partnered with Upworthy to promote those same traits in people, actions and ideas. Cleaning up and transformation are important aspects of many of our social good stories. Check out the rest in the campaign to read more.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Wikimedia Commons and Goalsetter

America's ethnic wealth gap is a multi-faceted problem that would take dramatic action, on multiple fronts, to overcome. One of the ways to help communities improve their economic well-being is through financial literacy.

Investopedia says there are five primary sources of financial education—families, high school, college, employers, and the military — and that education and household income are two of the biggest factors in predicting whether someone has a high level of financial literacy.

New Orleans Saints safety, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and social justice activist Malcolm Jenkins and The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation hope to help bridge the wealth gap by teaching students about investing at a young age.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.