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.
Family Promise of Clark County, WA, hadn’t even reached its first anniversary of operation when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. Washington State was the first American epicenter for the virus, so by early March, the Affiliate had already developed contingency plans. Their first order of business: safely housing the four families in their shelter program.
Family Promise’s national partnership with Motel 6 had served the Affiliate well in the past when the need arose to isolate families due to a measles infection, so they reached out to the motel chain again. Motel 6 has a 28-day length-of-stay limit, so Family Promise of Clark County made reservations for the families for the full 28 days, not knowing how long the quarantine mandate might last. Barely a week into their stay, the families received notice that the motel would be closing on March 31 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Fortunately, the Affiliate had already formed a Plan B.
“We were fearful motels would start filling up, so we had already made contingency plans with Extended Stay America [another Family Promise national partner],” says Executive Director Linda Winnett.
Extended Stay America worked with Family Promise to bump up the reservations by a few weeks and families were able to move directly from one motel to the next. The hotel doesn’t have a cap on the length of stays, but Winnett plans to have a Plan C in place just in case Extended Stay America has to shut down as well.
Of the four families staying in shelter, three were employed prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Business closures impacted two of those families, a discouraging development for families in the process of overcoming homelessness. Some of the children are school age, and Family Promise has been in contact with the school district regarding online learning. Winnett says the schools have been very cooperative.
“I think the biggest issue is looking for ways for the preschool-age children to stay entertained in such a small space,” she says.
The Affiliate established a COVID-19 relief fund and created an Amazon Wish List as a way for volunteers to support families and keep them supplied with critical basic needs and extras, in addition to the “no contact” food deliveries volunteers were already providing. With the younger children in mind, the Affiliate added arts and crafts projects and activity toys to the shopping list.
“Parenting skills are strained for families now under the best of circumstances,” says Winnett. “This is something else entirely.”
So far, families have been very appreciative of the food and supply deliveries and overwhelmed with the outpouring of compassion they’ve received as the community has come together in unique ways to support them. For instance, Motel 6 stopped providing housekeeping services in accordance with quarantine regulations, so volunteers have ensured families have a steady supply of the items they need to clean and maintain their motel rooms.
Winnett adds that graduate families have required some support as well. Many have experienced sudden job loss and need temporary help with expenses.
“We check in with them because it can be difficult for them to reach out. Many feel like ‘I shouldn’t need Family Promise anymore,’ but if we make the call, they’re more likely to respond with a ‘Well, since you asked…,’” explains Winnett.
The Affiliate reports that two graduate families have secured full-time jobs, an impressive accomplishment given the almost nonexistent job market at this time.
It has required some forethought and hard work, but Family Promise of Clark County, like so many Affiliates across the country, has managed to take the COVID-19 pandemic in stride. Of their new way of operating in recent weeks, Winnett says, “It’s been quite a way to celebrate our first year!”