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.
At first, it was seven dollars.
In February, just seven dollars short of her monthly rent, Natilie and her two young children were evicted from their home. They eventually found help at Family Promise of Laurens County, SC, which had just opened its doors the previous month thanks to a partnership with Belk department stores that supports developing Family Promise Affiliates in the Southeast. One of Natilie’s first priorities was preventing her daughter, who was in first grade, from having to switch schools.
In 1987, Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, part of which is intended to guarantee continuity in education for children experiencing homelessness. If a child must relocate due to a housing crisis, the school is expected to provide transportation to keep the student enrolled in the district. Family Promise of Laurens County was located in a different district, and the school refused to provide accommodations for Natilie’s daughter if the family sheltered there.
“Unfortunately, McKinney-Vento leaves too much room for interpretation,” says Naomi Broadway, the Affiliate’s executive director. “The way it’s designed, schools can define for themselves what’s considered a ‘reasonable’ distance to extend jurisdiction for these students.”
The school, in a rural area of South Carolina, deemed the 23 miles “beyond its jurisdiction.”
Just then the COVID-19 health pandemic hit, schools closed, and school jurisdiction was no longer an issue. With that dilemma resolved, Family Promise helped Natilie start thinking about goals.
“Over time we noticed how she talked about things differently, as if they were going to happen, not like she was just imagining possibilities,” says Broadway. “She talked about getting her driver’s license, her GED, finding a job, working on mental and physical health issues, bonding with her kids – looking at her life holistically. I think it was the first time in a while, if not ever, that she imagined a different life was possible, that she didn’t have to live on the edge of desperate poverty.”
Despite the health pandemic, Natilie has been motivated to achieve stability. With debt and an eviction on her record, not to mention the interruption of most business operations, finding housing was a challenge, but Family Promise managed to get the family into their own home within weeks. Supporters donated furniture, household supplies, and toys, as well as food and gift cards.
Natilie still receives case management remotely, working on budgeting, goal setting, and all the skills she needs to achieve lasting independence. She spends part of her quarantined days studying for her driver’s test and her high school degree and continues to set new goals. Like everyone, she and her children look forward to the day the world re-opens.