Our House: Financial Empowerment for the Working Homeless

Our House gives homeless and near-homeless families and individuals the resources they need to achieve financial empowerment and stability.

Photo of Daniel Durbin
1 0

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

Arkansas: Little Rock (72206, 72201, 72202, 72204, 72205)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Health & Fitness

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • $1m - $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

www.ourhouseshelter.org – Website https://www.instagram.com/ourhouseshelter/ - Instagram

Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

In 1986, a single working mother in Little Rock would have had nowhere to go after experiencing a financial crisis that left her and her children homeless. Shelters only allowed for short-term stays and could not accommodate families. No organization was able to address a family’s long-term needs or planning. Following a study by the Arkansas Interfaith Conference, the United Way of Pulaski County, and other local community agencies, Our House was founded in 1987 to answer this unmet need: providing a home for working homeless families. Our House has now grown to support over 1700 individuals each year, providing solutions for families to escape homelessness, or providing the key support to ensure they never have to experience homelessness.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

We seek to solve the problem of family homelessness, which persists for many reasons, including a lack of family-supporting jobs and systemic challenges to family financial health. Financial literacy, budget coaching, and access to savings programs are part of our comprehensive, multi-generation service model helps entire families navigate past these challenges and out of homelessness permanently.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Since 1987, Our House has been helping homeless families get back on their feet by supporting our clients in finding and maintaining full-time jobs, building savings, and attaining financial proficiency. In recent years, we have grown our financial empowerment programming, now consisting of financial literacy classes, one-one-one coaching, in-house savings programs, and participation in our local Bank On program and 529 savings program. Our efforts have a major impact on the financial well-being of our homeless and near-homeless clients. For example, last year 70% of our housing clients exited with savings. We seek now to unify our financial empowerment programs, which are headquartered in our Career Center and embedded in common case management practices across our five programs (housing, children’s programs, homelessness prevention, job training and adult education, and reentry services), multiplying their effect by consolidating our resources into one Financial Empowerment program that will work toward common goals across the organization, including: 75% of adult clients will participate in a savings program and 65% of families we serve will achieve a family-supporting wage.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Lindsey and her two young children checked into the Our House shelter after fleeing domestic violence and staying in a series of unsafe places. Over 18 months, she got a job, saved money, and learned how to manage her family’s finances. Her young children received care in our children’s programs, access to therapy to overcome the trauma they had endured, and Pre-K education. Eventually, Lindsey found a higher-paying job that she loves, moved her family into an apartment, and bought a car, paying cash with savings. And she regained custody of her teenage son, who has joined the family and thrived along with them. Now, due to Lindsey’s hard work on her finances, she has been approved for a Habitat for Humanity home. Her success is due to her own hard work, but Our House walked beside her every step of the way, providing resources, support, and encouragement to help her succeed. (See photo)

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Our House works primarily with homeless and near-homeless individuals and families, who are underserved and most in need of financial services and planning. Many of our clients come to us unbanked, without employment, sources of income, or savings, and often with substantial debts or fines. Our clients work to address these problems through our programs which help them find employment, build savings, reduce debt burden, and access financial services, substantially improving their net worth.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • illness
  • geography
  • work status
  • race/ethnicity
  • sexual orientation
  • gender
  • age - youth
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Many organizations teach financial education, but very few employ our model of embedding financial education within a holistic, hands-on, intensive case management model that supports and empowers clients to tackle their challenges head-on. Our approach is organized around helping our clients successfully navigate and advocate for themselves within the systems that affect their lives: housing, health care, financial services, education, the workplace, and more. We employ a two-generation approach, which seeks to address the needs of a family as whole, serving parents and children together.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Our program outcomes have a significant impact on our community by increasing employment, increasing incomes, increasing housing stability for families. In 2017, 76% of our housing clients moved up the housing ladder at exit. Our Career Center helped 561 adults find employment with 305 employers. Our homelessness prevention program served 146 families; 90% avoided a return to homelessness, 90% maintained employment, 61% increased their income by at least 25%. In fact, the average family moved from well below to well above the poverty line in just 12 months. Our clients believe in our programs as well. In a 2017 client satisfaction survey, 90% of homelessness prevention clients reported that we made a large positive difference in their lives. In the same survey, our clients gave us an average of 4 points out of 5 when asked how well we meet their financial empowerment needs.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

We will develop new partnerships with financial institutions and expand our Employer Alliance to increase access to banks and higher paying jobs for our clients. We will offer extended hours for financial education, more supportive services (such as childcare for parents and access to our in-house savings program), and more opportunities for whole families to participate. We will establish organization-wide performance measures for the success of our financial empowerment program. After expanding and unifying our program, we will share our success with local, regional, and national networks.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Federations, Associations
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our financial empowerment programming cuts across our five program areas and is supported directly and indirectly by grant funds, donors, volunteers, and in-kind donations from across our organization. We will ensure the sustainability of our solution by using this investment to unify our financial empowerment programming and to build capacity through the development of key partnerships, program development, and participation in regional networks.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Leadership includes Ben Goodwin, a Rhodes Scholar with a degree in economics and Justin Sanders, LCSW, who left the finance industry in 2008 to become a social worker. A team of Case Managers, Employment & Training Coordinators, and Employment Coach AmeriCorps (pt) work directly with clients to achieve their goals. Our Community Council, made up of 15 current clients, will provide feedback and guidance as the program grows.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Email

Organization name

Our House, Inc.

Program Design Clarity

Our main activities include case management, job training, financial literacy classes and budget coaching, an in-house savings program, and participation in our state’s 529 plan. Programs are carried out on our 7-acre campus. Most financial empowerment programs are offered Monday through Friday, 8am-7pm, with childcare and meals provided in the evening. Services are provided by staff, AmeriCorps, and qualified volunteers.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • education / literacy
  • saving
  • other

If you marked "Other" in the question above, please specify:

Our intensive case management is a central feature of our approach to creating financial well-being for our clients.

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Our House maintains a number of financial institution partners, such as Arvest Bank, to teach and coach clients on financial literacy skills. We maintain an Employer Alliance consisting of over 40 local employers to directly connect our clients to employment opportunities in our community. We also maintain partnerships with a number of government agencies, community nonprofits, and healthcare providers to improve our clients’ access to beneficial resources, programs, and networks.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

We will invest this money in staff time to scale up our financial empowerment offerings into a unified program that will have a deep and measurable impact on the trajectory of our clients’ lives, moving us ever closer to solving the problem of family homelessness in Central Arkansas.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

We presented on our approach at four national conferences in the last year and we were featured in a video by the Fund for Shared Insight, which is a network of funders dedicated to uplifting client voice. We have been featured in published studies by the Clinton School of Public Service and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. In 2015 we were named nonprofit of the year by Arkansas Business.

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 66.7%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 100%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 33.3%

Team - 66.7%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 0%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 66.7%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 33.3%

Potential to scale - 100%

Attachments (1)

2017 Annual Report.pdf

Our House 2017 Annual Report

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Sarah

Great explanation of community impact!