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.
During this crisis, we’re highlighting the unique ways Affiliates are serving families battling homelessness during this challenging time.
Family Promise is known for giving families in crisis “a hand up, not a handout.” Thanks to an initiative of Family Promise of Pulaski County, AR, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, that “hand” is a clean one.
This past winter the Affiliate put its shelter program on hold to work on capacity building. Just as they were preparing to re-open and bring families into the program, the health pandemic hit the U.S., closing businesses and public gatherings, including Family Promise’s rotational shelter model.
“While other Affiliates were looking at ways to get families into safe shelter and housing, we didn’t have that challenge,” says Executive Director Cynthia Ramey. “So we decided to focus on ways we could help families in need in the community.”
Maya Williams, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working with Family Promise of Pulaski County, noted how proper sanitation was critical to keeping the coronavirus at bay and protecting people’s health. She realized that the homeless population, which often lacks access to facilities like bathrooms and showers, was at greater risk.
“If you don’t have a home, you don’t have easy access to soap and running water, and hand sanitizer is hard to find these days. I started wondering if it would be possible to create pump-based soap and water stations throughout the community for those in need to use,” she explains.
She brought the concept to Ramey, who found enthusiastic donors to back the plan. Working with a portable toilet rental company, the Affiliate secured four handwashing stations that contain multiple sinks, a foot pump for water, soap, paper towels, and a small trash bin. They placed them around the county in areas where they’d be accessible to those who needed them most and identified them with Family Promise’s logo and helpful signs: one features the CDC’s instructions for proper hand washing, another how to recognize COVID-19 symptoms and what to do in case of illness. The rental company maintains the stations weekly.
But Family Promise of Pulaski County didn’t stop there. Although there were no families in its shelter program at the onset of the pandemic, that didn’t mean there was no such need in the community. They accepted four families into their program, sheltering them at a local hotel the Affiliate has partnered with in the past. Volunteers began to drop off meals, food, and supplies, and case management was handled remotely. The Affiliate continues to work with the families on employment and skills like budgeting and goal setting.
Ramey says Family Promise of Pulaski County has also consulted other Affiliates to help them rethink the shelter component of their work. She was particularly impressed by the COVID-19 response at Family Promise of Union County, NJ, that entailed partnering with landlords and apartment complexes to house families safely.
In the meantime, the Affiliate intends to build on the handwashing station concept…figuratively and literally. Area partners are inquiring with Family Promise about stations for other parts of the county, and Ramey plans to make it a permanent service the Affiliate offers to the community.
“The community has really rallied behind us and this effort. We’re hoping to secure the funding and materials to build our own portable hand washing stations and put them in high-traffic areas,” she says, demonstrating Family Promise’s philosophy that the solution to family homelessness is more than just shelter alone.