Neli Vazquez Rowland: a Safe Haven Foundation co-founder: a comprehensive approach to homelessness addresses all contributing factors to help end the cycle.

Author:Menard, Valerie

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the total number of people each year who experience homelessness could be as high as two million. To address the issue, federal, state, county and city governments struggle to find workable solutions.

One program in Chicago, A Safe Haven, may have hit upon the answer. Rather than focusing on one aspect of the problem, the non-profit takes a holistic approach that provides housing. But it's not the typical government housing scenario seen in poverty-stricken neighborhoods; residents live in a high-rise building in downtown Chicago.

Add to that the drug rehabilitation, education, and job placement services and A Safe Haven boasts a tangible return on investment. For example, 70 percent of the program's clients have remained sober for three years--more than five times the national average--and about 80 percent of those in the job training program secure job placements.

"We've thrown so much money at this problem, but with very few results," says Neli Vazquez Rowland, A Safe Haven co-founder. "When my husband and I were looking at what to do, we didn't just want to take money; we wanted to provide solutions."

The middle child of seven, Rowland grew up in a Chicago barrio that she describes as a "beautiful enclave of Latinos" who looked out for each other. Rowland focused on helping her family financially as soon as she could, handing over a portion of her first paycheck to her mother as she had seen her older brothers and sisters do.

"I remember feeling so proud that day because I could finally contribute, but then turning to see my father in tears. I didn't know if he was crying, out of shame or pride," she shares.

Her father also intervened when Rowland was in high school, transferring her to a trade high school in downtown Chicago, where she learned to type 90 words per minute and take shorthand, skills she still uses to this day. She would have continued to work in administrative jobs to support the family, but when her friend's mother, Esther Garza, learned that Rowland had no plans to attend college, she stepped in.

"She said I was way too smart not to and took it upon herself to help me apply for college," she says. "It was the first time I ever considered it, and I was the first in my family to go. If folks hadn't helped me, I would have become another statistic."

Rowland attended Loyola University, where she met her husband, Brian Rowland. They were both gainfully...

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