Lifting up struggling families before they hit rock bottom

By Stacy Juchno, general auditor, PNC

Can you imagine not being able to put food on the table for your family? Having to choose between eating dinner or putting gas in the car? There are 174,000 people in Allegheny County who are food insecure – 42,000 of which are children.

And if you’re unable to meet your basic needs, the slippery slope begins. The next choice might be between paying for rent or a medical bill, and so forth. There are more than 1,100 homeless individuals in Allegheny County – that is 1,100 too many.

Every day, there are neighbors throughout our community struggling to make ends meet. As members of this community, it is our role to help solve our region’s most pressing issues. After tons of research and conversations with agency partners and local people, United Way knows that people in our community are either at-risk or currently struggling with hunger and homelessness.

I have seen firsthand people in our community who have needed a hand up. A friend of mine recently lost his job and fell behind on his rent. This was someone who was always successful and always working hard; he never imagined he would be in a spot where he needed help. I told him to call 2-1-1. United Way and its partners were able to help him pay for a month of rent and create a budget for his family. Now, he’s back on track.

You see, by working together, we can help families get back on their feet before they reach a crisis, so no family has to go to bed hungry, sacrifice any of their basic needs, or sleep on the street or in a car.

United Way is committed to identifying innovative solutions to help families meet basic needs, avoid hunger, homelessness and financial crisis, and support families so they can increase household income and stability through employment and community resources. In order to do this, United Way’s Financially Struggling Families impact work brings thought leaders together to help implement the best strategies that will help more people faster.

Once a family is on the streets, they have hit rock bottom. As a community, we can work together to help lift them up before it gets to that point and set them on the right track. United Way and its partner agencies work directly with families to get to the root of the issue – are they having car trouble; are they behind on a utility bill; did they just lose their job?

If a family is behind on rent, can’t afford their gas bill, or is unable to make a needed repair to their home, there are one-time financial supports that can help make sure that doesn’t set a family back too far. As little as $100 to pay this month’s gas bill might be all a family needs to get by. Specifically, United Way’s investment and partnership with local eviction prevention agencies helps families, many with children, stay in their homes through eviction prevention and utility assistance.

When a family has a sustainable, reliable income, many basic needs can be met. If an individual has just lost their job or is having trouble finding employment, there are agencies who can help with stronger job applications and interviewing skills. They can connect people with the right opportunities for their skillsets.

On top of that, United Way partners with agencies that can help working people find reliable transportation, educational support to complete their degrees and more.

When I see someone struggling or hear stories from friends near and far who might be facing crises, my immediate response is for them to call 2-1-1. The resource navigators are there to help.

When we provide holistic support to our community members, we can help them reach financial stability and avoid hunger and homelessness. Each and every one of us could be in a situation where we need a little help – it’s up to us to work together, support one another and lift each other up.

Considering joining United Way as we continue to support struggling families throughout our region. Click here to learn more.