Back on My Feet
Back on My Feet - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Back on My Feet
“Our unique model demonstrates that if you first restore confidence, strength, and self-esteem, individuals are better equipped to tackle the road ahead.”
Homelessness is a pressing national problem. In 2017, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that 1.4 million people pass through homeless shelters each year. And the funding spent to combat homelessness? It exceeds $6 billion each year. But aside from the staggering numbers and statistics, homelessness is also a personal problem. It’s a tragic and deeply human experience, one that comes with high levels of instability, stress, and humiliation. It’s exhausting.
Take life in a homeless shelter. While shelters often provide lifesaving protection from the elements—the National Coalition for Homelessness estimates that 700 people die from hypothermia on the streets each year—many shelters are overcrowded and understaffed. When lots of people with lots of problems are collected in the same space, it’s difficult to provide the personalized attention that’s needed to address the root causes of poverty. Many times, homeless shelters provided limited opportunities for hygiene and self-care, and theft is a constant threat for residents. Sleeping in close quarters also does not translate to good rest. The lack of sleep, incessant worry, and stress of instability make finding a job exceedingly difficult. Not to mention developing new workplace skills and finding permanent, affordable housing. And most of the people who end up in a homeless shelter are alone in their fight. With no family or friends to turn to, homeless shelters are a last resort.
Today, homelessness disproportionately affects minorities, especially the African American community. Families also make up a large portion of the U.S. homelessness population—1/3 of those experiencing homelessness are families. The exhaustion and instability of the homeless experience, already challenging for adults, can adversely affect the outcomes of kids trying to stay engaged in school.
Finding affordable housing can seem astronomically out of reach for someone living in a shelter. Rent? It keeps going up. The supply of affordable housing? It’s going down. In 2020 Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies published a report on the affordability crisis of U.S. housing. In the study, renters are considered “cost-burdened” if they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and “severely burdened” if they spend more than half of their income on housing. They find that 72% of low-income earners (earning $15,000 a year or less) are severely burdened. But states like California and New York, which together account for 43% of the U.S. homeless population, boast the nation’s highest costs of living. With fewer housing options and fewer opportunities to earn a living wage, stays in homeless shelters are longer. The average stay in a New York City homeless shelter in 2019 was 401 days for single adults, 438 days for families with children, and 561 days for adult families. Programs that invest in people experiencing homelessness and help them on the road to independence are critical for solving the U.S. homelessness crisis. To enable those experiencing homelessness to build and lead dignified lives, we need to understand what works.
The Back on My Feet program works with individuals in transitional homeless shelters or addiction treatment facilities to restore their confidence and self-esteem through running. Then, by building community and offering job-training workshops, the program focuses on getting its members employed and stably housed.
The program has two core components. Its members agree to join running or walking teams that meet 2-3 mornings a week. If members have a perfect attendance record for three weeks, they are supplied with shoes and active wear. After 30 days of 90% attendance, members move to the program’s Next Steps, which pairs members with a mentor who helps them develop a personal roadmap to independence. The program also provides financial literacy and job-skill training through its corporate partners, and members are eligible to receive financial aid to remove barriers to employment, housing, work supplies, and transportation. By building community, Back on My Feet works to achieve independence through accountability.
Does participation in the Back on My Feet running and work skills program impact the labor market and housing outcomes of individuals experiencing homelessness?
- Those who participate in the Back on My Feet running and work skills program will be more likely to find consistent employment than those who do not.
- Back on My Feet team members will gain stable housing and have better health outcomes as a result of their participation.
Research Study Design
The Back on My Feet study is a randomized controlled trial. Residents of homeless shelters and treatment facilities are given the opportunity to attend Back on My Feet’s regular orientation sessions. The residents who express interest are screened on a set of eligibility requirements, such as the ability to work and not being convicted of a violent offense. Because Back on My Feet teams have a limited number of spots for new members, interested and eligible residents participate in a lottery to determine whether or not they will be invited to join a team. Half of the lottery participants are invited to join a Back on My Feet team and receive the program’s financial, mentoring, and training services, while half are not. At the conclusion of the study, LEO researchers will compare the outcomes of Back on My Feet members with those who do not participate.