Since the United Way of Greater Houston launched its new financial stability navigation program in 2022, the reasons people have enrolled have varied, President and CEO Amanda McMillian said.

In one instance a mother with a child with a disability enrolled to get help setting goals for her small business while also taking care of her own mental health. With help from her navigator, she was connected to support for her business goals as well as a wellness clinic to address her mental health needs.

In another instance, a woman whose nursing certification lapsed found herself in a homeless shelter with her three children. Since reaching out, a navigation team has helped her reestablish her career with Houston Methodist and move her family into an apartment.

They are among the roughly 740 people enrolled in the United Way's new Integrated Client Journey program, which is aimed at helping people find financial stability while also helping cover the basics.

The big picture

The ICJ is run by the United Way with the support of 90 partner agencies across Fort Bend, Harris, Montgomery and Waller counties, McMillian said. The heart of the operation are the 20 navigation teams that are embedded at 15 of the agency partners, she said.

Through those teams, officials are able to help clients access a wider array of support services at no charge to them, McMillian said. For example, if a client approaches an agency for help that specializes in workforce development, that same person might also benefit from help finding professional clothing or securing childcare, which the workforce company normally would not be able to provide

"But now they can lean on their partners, who are really good at that work, and help people make sure they have the basics covered while they are progressing down the path toward financial stability," McMillian said.

The backstory

Research and years of helping Houstonians with financial stability have taught United Way officials the importance of taking a holistic approach, McMillian said.

"For people who are already struggling, the small barriers can be just as much a barrier as the big ones," she said, citing examples such as lack of access to transportation or lack of suitable clothing for an interview. "Things like that can actually be really big barriers to somebody trying to get that job."

It can take three years on average for a person to reach financial stability, McMillian said. For clients who have enrolled with the ICJ over the past year, about 20% of have already completed financial stability goals they've set for themselves, which she said was a sign the program was working.

The details

United Way officials took a data-driven approach in choosing where to place navigation teams, including the use of 2-1-1 data, Kinder Houston Area Survey data, and data from the ALICE dataset, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

McMillian said she hopes to grow over time and expand the number of navigation teams working in the region.

The takeaway

To learn more about the ICJ, individuals can:In the meantime, United Way of Greater Houston plans to formally launch a new community campaign Sept. 12, McMillian said, which will help raise funds for the nonprofit, including the ICJ program. Nonprofit officials are asking workplaces, organizations and individuals across the region for support.

"Demand will almost always very much exceed capacity in services and programs across our community," McMillian said. "Any support people can provide goes a long way to helping people."