When a family falls on hard times and loses their home, sometimes they never regain that stability. Families are the fastest growing group of people suffering from homelessness in our community. Ability Housing of Northeast Florida is trying to change that. It is an organization that provides quality, affordable housing to First Coast individuals and families who are at risk of being homeless. It gives people a fresh start. We asked Shannon Nazworth to share her insight on how a new home and a fresh start for one person can serve to make our entire community stronger in the long run.

What impact has Ability Housing had on First Coast residents?

Not only have we helped reduce crime in neighborhoods, but we have helped hundreds of our neighbors exit homelessness. This improves their health, stabilizes their lives, helps children achieve higher grades in school and, ultimately, saves the community a great deal of money.

 What first interested you in this field?

I wanted to help people, and finding a long-term solution to homelessness needed to be done. Simply managing homelessness, which ultimately perpetuates it, is an illogical response to a complex community issue. No one can excel while living under the stress of needing to find a safe place to sleep each night.

How did you first get involved in housing issues?

I started with Habitat for Humanity. Helping people build and buy a home of their own was very rewarding. Then I learned about homelessness and supportive housing, and knew I could help implement real change in our community.

How do you define “quality, affordable housing”?

“Quality” means the housing is decent—it’s safe, clean and well-maintained.  “Affordable” means the family living there can afford the housing without sacrificing other necessities, such as medical care, food, clothing, etc. Ideally, a family doesn’t spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

How has this work impacted you on a personal level?

I have been impacted the most by the people we serve. So often our society doesn’t engage with a homeless person; we avert our eyes and feel uncomfortable. But they are our neighbors; they have a life and a story. And, all too often, they could be us. It is striking how easy it is to become homeless, but yet, it can be so hard to get out of it.

What is your biggest challenge as an organization? 

Resources. Helping people exit homelessness saves the community a great deal of money, but getting the money to create quality, affordable housing is very difficult. And we must have strong partners to provide support services that people often need in order for them to maintain their independence and avoid returning to homelessness.