New nonprofit CEO: We can end homelessness in Montgomery County -- Gazette.Net


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This story was corrected on July 23, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

The new CEO of Interfaith Works in Rockville brings two decades of experience from around the country to the mission of fighting homelessness in Montgomery County.

Shane Rock of Gaithersburg, former director of operations for the senior services program at the Jewish Social Service Agency in Rockville, took over at Interfaith Works last week .

The graduate of Oberlin College and Vanderbilt University Law School previously worked for nonprofits in Seattle, including the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the Ballard Food Bank, and at a shelter in rural Tennessee.

“Shane is a passionate, experienced advocate for those in need,” said Farley Price, Interfaith Works board chairman, in a news release.

Rock said he’s particularly passionate about homelessness because it’s an obstacle to accessing other services such as health and child care, and job placement.

“It’s really hard to work with someone who doesn’t have a home, because they’re facing so many challenges just to get from day to day,” he said. “But once you get them in the housing, and they’re stable in that housing, then you can start to wrap services around them and provide support.”

Rock said working in Montgomery County presents a rare opportunity to eliminate homelessness.

“There is the realistic chance that we can effectively end homelessness in the future here, because of the resources and because of the way the community is focused on the issue,” he said. “I don’t know that that’s a realistic possibility in lots of other places in the country, but here I think it’s possible.”

Close to 900 county residents, or 0.09 percent of the population, are homeless, according to a May report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The rate is down 12 percent from last year.

Rock said Montgomery has several advantages over other jurisdictions in fighting homelessness. For one thing, in addition to its wealth, there are fewer organizations to deal with in Montgomery than in Seattle.

“It’s a more manageable set of partners and collaborators that you need to put together to be able to help people,” he said.

Interfaith Works coordinates with many local religious organizations dedicated to social service, said spokeswoman Charlotte Garvey.

“Our foundation is people of different belief systems, but the fundamental idea is, we need to take care of each other,” she said.

The nonsectarian nonprofit works with various religious groups in the area, including Jews, Christians, Buddhists and humanists. Rock oversees a senior staff of five and an annual budget of about $10 million, according to its 2013 financial statement. Besides operating homeless shelters, the organization has a second-hand clothing store, provides backpacks with school supplies for needy children and offers employment services, among its programs.

Rock said he hopes to use his experience with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance to advocate for affordable housing.

“If you don’t have affordable housing, it’s really difficult to transition people from homelessness into an affordable place to live,” he said. “And Montgomery County is struggling with having enough affordable housing, because it’s such an expensive place to live.”

Rock said he doesn’t yet plan to change much about how the organization is run and hopes others around the country will emulate its work.

“Part of what I hope to accomplish is to make sure that everyone knows about the agency, but also to acknowledge that the approach here can be replicated in other places,” he said.

Explanation: The original version incorrectly reported Shane Rock’s previous position at the Jewish Social Service Agency.

ltaylor@gazette.net