As part of our ongoing conversation on homelessness, we asked members of the Family Promise network and individuals working to serve families experiencing homelessness to share their personal thoughts and reflections on Family Promise and the issue of family homelessness. These writers are true thought leaders, using their skills and expertise to develop and implement creative solutions that are changing the lives of parents and children in their communities. This interview is with Jayne Moraski, Executive Director of Family Promise of Gainesville.
Jayne Moraski on How COVID-19 Has Impacted Family Promise of Gainesville
First, can you tell us what the current state of homelessness is in your community? How has COVID-19 impacted things? What makes your community unique as it pertains to family homelessness?
Gainesville, Florida is the home of the University of Florida and over 40,000 students. The town is dependent upon these students to keep the economy going and has few other industries. Our affiliate shut down its rotational shelter on March 22nd. That day, we lost over $34,000 of in-kind support for our shelter and knew we had to switch to another model to sustain our program. We first rented hotel units, then rented six apartments for families. We used to house four families at a time, so we actually increased the amount of capacity because we had some wonderful landlord partners donate one unit and rent others at reasonable rates while students were gone over the summer.
We also started two new partnerships that are critical to our sustainability. The first is with Working Foods—a non-profit organization that works to cultivate and sustain a resilient local food community in North Central Florida through collaboration, economic opportunity, education, and seed stewardship. They utilized their partnerships with farmers and restaurants to create low cost meals and donate them to Family Promise from April 1st through mid-September. Family Promise delivered the meals to our families nightly, and added families from other service providers to increase our food delivery by 300% of our pre-pandemic capacity. The second partnership is with Rebuilding Together—a nonprofit home repair program that helps low income homeowners stay in their housing. Family Promise will purchase used homes and Rebuilding Together will help us renovate and maintain those homes at a fraction of the cost of traditional renovations. This reduction in costs helps us lower the carrying costs of the units and keep them affordable for generations to come. We are in the process of purchasing four units and renovating two more to increase the affordable housing stock in our community. We are excited by this new partnership, supported by the TD Foundation and First Federal Bank.
COVID-19 has changed many things. What steps have you had to take to ensure that your Affiliate can safely and effectively serve families during this time?
We closed our rotational shelter and created a new ‘scattered-site’ shelter model. We meet with clients virtually and have closed our offices so that employees can work remotely.
Nationally, we are expecting to see an eviction crisis in the coming months. How do you anticipate this will impact your community? And how are you preparing?
We have actively been advocating for our clients through the city and county’s CARES Act distributions. We hope that they will both employ a Housing First approach that utilizes the existing channels of client service. By supporting the accountable nonprofits that already serve the homeless population, they can distribute funds quickly and help the most folks. We are also working with landlords to try and negotiate partial payment of past due items.
What makes you most concerned right now?
It all concerns me, so I have to do what Mr. Rogers suggested and “find the helpers.”
What makes you most hopeful right now?
We have had so many community members reach out to show their support. It is amazing to see that those who have not been impacted financially are giving more than they did in the past and asking how they can continue to volunteer safely. Basic human kindness is alive and well, we just need to keep being the vehicle for connecting people to a method of support for their neighbors in need. If you can, the time to give is now and the need is great.
Do you have a favorite story from the past few months?
One of our long term supporters, Linda Meling, called and asked how she could help. She attends a large church with a commercial kitchen. We had gone to our local foodbank and purchased huge deli meats for our families. We realized that there was no way to cut this deli meat. So Linda reached out to her church and confirmed they had a deli slicer. Then her son, who worked at Publix deli counter for years, went to the church and sliced up over 40 pounds of meat for us to put into smaller packages for each family in our shelter. It is a small story about someone seeing a disconnect and finding a way to make positive things happen. That is what Family Promise tries to do each day.
How can people in your community who want to get involved do so?
People can hold supply drives, donate meals to our families, and spread the word that the eviction moratorium is going to have a radical impact on so many working families who have never before experienced homelessness.
What made you want to get involved with fighting homelessness?
I learned early on that home can be a tremendous comfort for some, and a place of stress for others. I want every child to have a chance to succeed in life. If housing is unstable, their whole world is upside down. They cannot focus on the long term future if they are worried about where they will lay their head each night. We can do better in this country. I know we can. We need to start today.