Poverty and homelessness are major topics of conversation in Tacoma these days and everyone has an opinion on what to do about it. Some people focus on social services while others focus on law enforcement. Some people have undying compassion and some people are simply fed up. It’s a divisive issue to say the least.
No matter where you stand on the issue, though, we should all be able to agree that keeping people from falling into poverty in the first place is an ideal goal. This is exactly what Sound Outreach does for the people of Tacoma and the surrounding region.
TAPCO has been a great financial supporter of ours for a long time and—full disclosure—they paid us to write this story. They could’ve paid us to write a story about them but they chose to shine the light on this vital non-profit instead. That’s pretty cool.
I’ll be the first to admit that financial responsibility is not a sexy subject. When I sat down with the people of Sound Outreach, this was actually the first thing I said. They’ve been doing this since 1996 so they’re well aware of the situation. The stuff they do, though, is so important that it literally saves people’s lives.
Building generational wealth, dismantling institutionalized racism in the financial world, managing debt before it ruins people’s lives; these are some of the most important issues facing our city today. Ever-rising housing costs have taken a difficult situation and made it even worse.
“People are having to move further and further out to find affordable housing, which means their transportation costs are going up,” Executive Director, Bryan Flint told me. “To get to work, they have to rely on having a car available. When you don’t have a savings account or a relationship with a bank and you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, then the muffler goes out, or a tire goes out, and if you have a job where if you miss a day you get fired, then you’re without an income and you’re closer to being homeless.”
Financial counselors work out a budget with the client to figure out how much they need to earn in order to live the kind of life they want. If there’s a gap in income, they can also set people up with an employment coach to identify what changes need to be made. And it’s not just hollow advice like “Get a better job.” They consider the circumstances people are in and work with the options available.
A lot of their clients have been mistreated or let down by the system. As such, they have an understandably hard time trusting people when it comes to finances.
“Our services are client-led. So we don’t tell clients what to do,” said Bryan. “We find out what their goals are and figure out how to get them to their goals. If they love their job, then it’s a matter of how do you live within your means, or can we reduce your expenses somewhere, or are there public benefits that you’re eligible for?”
Financial counselors work with clients to build savings accounts so if something goes wrong, it doesn’t turn into a catastrophe. And it’s not only about preventing a crisis. It’s about establishing financial independence and self-sustainability. That means getting a savings account, improving credit, getting a loan, getting a better car—getting a better life.
Bryan told me a story before I left that really illustrated just how easily someone’s life can spiral out of control, and also how quickly it can be set straight with the right kind of guidance.
“This woman was a senior, and she messed up her taxes the year before and owed back taxes. She was so upset about it that she had stopped paying for her medication. And the impact was such that her physical and mental health started to deteriorate and she almost lost her house. She came to us for tax advice and the volunteer took her over to the financial counselor and in the space of 60 days she went from this bedraggled, unhealthy, almost homeless woman, back to this vibrant person. We had helped her figure out her tax issue so she could get her mind back around to paying for her medicine. Our intervention was able to grab her and sort of cycle her back up. In a sense it didn’t take a lot but she was by herself. We’ve all had those situations where things just start to unravel.”
“A lot of the stories that we find so compelling are when we’re able to find that one thing that is able to keep people from falling off the cliff.”
All of the services Sound Outreach provides are free and one of the biggest challenges they face is raising money. An easy way to support them is to buy a shirt or hoodie from TAPCO’s shop. 25% of the proceeds go to Sound Outreach.