At Family Promise, desperate times call for creative measures.
The COVID-19 crisis has been a proving ground for Family Promise Affiliates, volunteers, and partners across the country as service providers resort to unique and creative measures that ensure vulnerable families to continue to receive the support they need while working to regain independence.
Over the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting the unique ways Affiliates are serving families battling homelessness during this challenging time.
Like many nonprofits, fundraising events are something Family Promise North Shore Boston, MA, relies heavily on to meet budget goals every year. And like many nonprofits, the COVID-19 crisis threw a wrench in those plans.
“We had a gala scheduled for May, and that’s been pushed back to October,” says Executive Director Rachel Hand. She adds, “We were concerned, but we explained to the community how we rely on funders at this time to get us through the year, and people have really responded.”
The Affiliate participated in Family Promise’s National COVID-19 Emergency Relief campaign earlier this month, and their efforts were so successful that they exceeded their fundraising goals.
In the meantime, they’ve been working with families to ensure everyone is taken care of, but the health pandemic has definitely impacted their progress.
For some, steady employment has been a hurdle. In one family, a father working in the sports entertainment industry lost his job, while the mom continues to look for work, a particular challenge at a time when many businesses are downsizing or closing doors.
Other families have been more fortunate, Hand says. Prior to the pandemic, parents from two families were hired in what are now considered “essential businesses,” so their income has remained intact.
“The hard thing is childcare,” Hand remarks. “Most childcare centers have closed, and we’ve had to work with families to make other arrangements.”
She explains that remote schooling presents other challenges for families battling homelessness, especially graduate families who are housed but still working with Family Promise for stabilization support.
Hand says, “For families in the shelter program, at least they automatically have the resources they need – food, internet, constant support. But for graduates, it’s harder. They may not have access to reliable internet. We’re trying to reach out to graduates to provide any assistance we can.”
Hand worries that schools might be lowering their expectations of students due to current social restrictions. She cites instances where schools have made lessons available but offer little in the way of grading and in-depth instruction. For low-income children or those experiencing homelessness, there’s an increased risk of falling behind due to lack of resources like computers, the internet, or even the ability of parents to provide in-home support.
“It puts those kids at a disadvantage,” she says. “Those kids fall behind the kids who have the resources.”
But it’s not just resources. Families battling homelessness are dealing with the trauma of their circumstances – looking for housing, looking for jobs, helping their children cope, all while trying to cope, themselves. Hand says those parents can have a harder time getting their kids to sit down and focus on schoolwork when they’re not spending their days in school as usual.
Like all Affiliates, volunteer interactions have been limited at Family Promise North Shore Boston. Instead of working directly with families, volunteers are now providing gift cards to grocery stores and restaurants offering take-out service. Despite restricted access to families, however, Hand says volunteers have made the situation much more manageable.
“Our board and volunteers have been incredible and really stepped up,” she says. “I feel blessed to have the resources we have.”