Finding full-time employment was the easy part for Kamelah Foster. Finding affordable and reliable transportation would prove much more difficult.
In April of 2020, while the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed much of the state, the single mother of two remained committed to keeping the fast-food job that allowed her to pay for temporary housing at a local motel. Without a vehicle, and with many bus services halted due to driver shortages and safety concerns, Kamelah turned to United Way 2-1-1 for help.
The 33-year-old received prepaid Lyft rides through Ride United — a service designed to assist Greater Detroit Centers for Working Families clients in overcoming transportation barriers that prevent them from obtaining or maintaining employment. The program is funded by General Motors and offered through United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 2-1-1 call center.
In Michigan, 38 percent of households struggle to afford basic needs like transportation, housing, child care, food, technology, and healthcare. These Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or ALICE households represent those in our community who, like Kamelah, are working yet still struggling to make ends meet.
“As the saying goes, ‘You have to spend money to make money’. The challenge is that ALICE families often don’t have enough slack in their budgets to be able to afford the things they need to become better off in the long term — like the transportation to get to a job, or a pair of steel-toed work boots that are necessary to be able to take a well-paying job in construction.,” said Megan Thibos, director of Economic Mobility Initiatives at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “We’re working to eliminate barriers to economic mobility so that everyone can have a real chance for a better life.”
Ride United participants can request Uber or Lyft rides to interviews, critical pre-employment appointments like drug tests or physicals, and as back-up transportation during the first six months in a new position. Ride United can also help with temporary transportation challenges that threaten a person’s ability to keep an existing job.
“Ride United is a critical support, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Ride United builds on the infrastructure of our Centers for Working Families partners, which provide holistic support to help families earn more and take control of their finances to move from surviving to thriving.” Megan said.
As a part of the Ride United service, Kamelah worked with a financial coach to develop a strategy to meet her long-term mobility needs. She also received a copy of her credit report and advice on how to remove negative items, pay down debt, and raise her credit score.
“Most people, when they call 2-1-1, they’re in survival mode. We want to meet their most immediate needs, and then help them shift to planning mode,” said Lamerl Briggs, a financial coach at Operation ABLE, which helps adults find employment through personalized searches, job placement, occupational training and career transition services.
Since its initial pilot launch in October 2019, Ride United has provided more than 3,000 rides for more than 500 people.
Each participant receives up to $300 in ride credits for up to six months. Once enrolled, a participant can request a ride at any time for employment-related purposes by calling 2-1-1.
Lamerl calls Ride United “a temporary fix but a much-needed fix.” She added that she’s grateful for referrals from the program because she’s able to meet clients who may not otherwise come to her for financial advice.
With the Lyft rides, Kamelah was able to pick up additional late-night shifts to save money for a vehicle and stable housing. In June, she used her savings to purchase a used car. Soon after, she saved enough to move out of the motel she was living in and into a home of her own.
“Anything is possible when people really want to make a change and are willing to do the work. It’s definitely work, but if you have a little help, and can start saving and taking ownership, it’s life-changing,” Lamerl said.
If you or someone you know would like support to build a better financial future, contact one of our Centers for Working Families partners today.
If your organization works to help people get jobs and improve their economic situation, and would like to become a Ride United referral partner, please contact United Way’s Economic Mobility team at firstname.lastname@example.org.