Skip to main content
Commentary Working & the Economy

Commentary: We need to do more to help our neighbors

A view of the Maryland State House with School Street in the foreground. photo by Jeff66/Wirestock Creators.

By Courtney Hall

The writer is CEO of Interfaith Works (, a nonprofit based in Rockville serving 35,000 Montgomery County residents annually with programs that provide emergency shelter, supportive housing, essential needs like free clothing, food and utility assistance, and vocational services.

Our neighbors are struggling. The expiration of COVID special assistance programs combined with skyrocketing costs and job loss have left more people homeless and in poverty. We must support strategies based on broader access to affordable housing and helping people get through times of crisis.

Interfaith Works serves residents of Montgomery County, the second wealthiest community in Maryland. We serve people who cannot afford their rent, cannot feed their families, and cannot find jobs that provide wages adequate to live a life of dignity. Our programs provide emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness, supportive housing, essential needs, and vocational services. We help over 35,000 people a year.

In our work, we see signs that things are getting worse and require sustained attention, more solutions, and investment. If that is the case in our “rich” county, it is a sign that things likely are the same or worse for other Maryland communities.

Access to housing

In our experience, programs that divert individuals and families from the shelters and streets and rapidly rehouse them can make a big impact. Interfaith Works has achieved significant success as one of the providers implementing Montgomery County’s Rapid Rehousing Program, which moves people off the streets or out of shelters and into permanent housing, giving them space and stability while they find jobs. Overall, the program has achieved a 93% rate of success in moving people into independent living situations.

But there are barriers. Despite enactment of the HOME Act of 2020 to address discrimination, our clients frequently encounter situations where landlords set the bar out of reach by requiring high credit scores and/or monthly income that is three times the monthly rent — requirements that the average renter does not have to meet. In other instances, landlords refuse to rent to our clients at all because their income for the next year comes from a subsidy despite the fact the client is in a program specifically aimed at helping them find a job and becoming economically stable within that timeframe.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) has offered a new housing agenda that would expand access to affordable housing. It also includes a much-needed plan to strengthen protections for renters. These initiatives can offer enforcement protection to our neighbors experiencing homelessness, who are getting stuck in emergency shelter environments due to the lack of affordable housing and resistance from some landlords to rent to them.

The renter proposals include: rent control measures; protections to prevent unfair evictions; regulation of security deposits to ensure they are reasonable; expanded resources to support tenant representation in court; and a host of measures to promote expanded development of affordable housing.

We are encouraged by these initiatives and look forward to bold action. People cannot move forward if doors are closed to them.

Prevention-based programs

Our neighbors are struggling to stay afloat. They are challenged by the high cost of groceries and other essentials, high rents, lack of access to sustaining jobs, and the end of special pandemic assistance programs.

We must invest in programs that are built on prevention of homelessness.

Our Connections program links people with essential resources, including financial assistance to cover unpaid utility bills and overdue rent. Demand is on the upswing. The number of households receiving rental assistance jumped from 218 in fiscal year 2022 to 358 in fiscal 2023.

However, our ability to help has been hamstrung by inconsistent funding. From September to December, we had no funds to provide any rental assistance. We had to say no to 300 families who were behind on their rents. We referred them to other sources of assistance, but those programs have higher barriers to qualify, which means many likely were left out in the cold. Luckily, generous donors stepped in to fund the program, but not before families were negatively affected.

Our vocational services program is achieving great success connecting people with sustainable jobs once they overcome many barriers, including lack of access to affordable childcare and transportation. Over the past four years we have helped place nearly 400 people in jobs, earning more than $10 million in initial annual wages. But the demand for these services is more than our current team can meet. We now have a wait time of up to 16 weeks to engage with new clients.

Giving people sustainable options and resources for housing and employment can go a long way to ensuring our neighbors find ways to move forward, not slide backward. As a state, we must invest in programs that are built on the principles of prevention and diversion to ensure that everyone has a chance to find a pathway to stability.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected].

To republish, copy the following text and paste it into your HTML editor.


Creative Commons License AttributionCreative Commons Attribution
Commentary: We need to do more to help our neighbors