Opponents to human services funding often complain about creating a "welfare state," where citizens overly rely on the government for handouts instead of learning to provide for themselves.
The Utility Emergency Services Fund, headed by John Rowe from Andorra, employs the "teach-a-man-to-fish" strategy that helps Philadelphians bridge tough times in their lives, while teaching them to be sustainable for the future.
"It's about self-sufficiency and prevention of homelessness and working with people who are on welfare to go forward," Rowe said.
Founded in 1983, UESF originally helped people pay their utility bills for those who were faced with the decision to keep the lights on or get their rent in on time. Rowe said its clients are the "working poor," those making about $13,000 a year.
When Rowe came aboard nearly six years ago as executive director, the nonprofit organization's board empowered him to expand its services.
"Some people told us you're a Band-Aid. It's only a symptom. Utilities are not the problem, just part of it," he said.
The father of three, who previously worked for the Housing and Urban Development Department, implemented more related services and also financial, life-skill education.
So UESF began to help pay security deposits, first/last month's rent to get people those starting funds difficult for the impoverished to secure. The staff grew and UESF launched the Housing Stabilization Program, a pilot that worked on the broader picture of poverty.
One of the 200 families would receive financial assistance, but also be part of a case management system that worked with clients one-on-one.
"We realized that only way to deal with this, is to make sure they can handle it on their own," Rowe said.
At 15 neighborhood sites throughout the city, UESF checks in and works on budgeting, landlord-tenant relationships, job placement and childcare management.
Rowe shares one success story involving a family of four, mom and dad living in different city shelters. That costs taxpayers $34 a day per person. With an investment of less than $3,000, UESF helped the family get into an apartment, reunited the family, empowered the mother to get a job, and facilitated the father to provide the childcare.
For many nonprofits, the economic recession hit them hard. Rowe said they struggled through and continued to have support from the City of Philadelphia, and private donors.
"I think the answer is that our product is sound. The long-term self-sufficiency of families is worth it. They recognize that in the environment of decreasing funding, our program eventually saves money because people aren't coming back for more," he said.
The best help anyone could UESF is financially, visit its website for more information on how to give.