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 Jennifer Fagenbaum, Executive Director of Family Promise of South Sarasota County.
Jennifer Fagenbaum on How COVID-19 Has Impacted Family Promise of South Sarasota County
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?
Here in South Sarasota County Florida, we are expecting a dramatic eviction crisis in the coming months. Our population is very split between well off retirees and low-wage workers who provide the services that our well off population relies on. Much of our area is a bit touristy which does not equate to high-paying jobs and these are the individuals who are still not back to working fully in businesses such as restaurants, bars, hotels, and resorts. Most of these families were paying $1,200 to $1,500 a month in rent, which is usually well over 50% of their income, so there is no way these families can catch up even when they get back to work. We have been raising funds and working with our CoC and County to provide funds to these families and connect them with other local resources. We are also working with the CoC and County to create some affordable housing options now that everyone sees the real need. This may be a silver lining kind of thing coming out of this pandemic—that people understand now that a lot of families are truly one crisis away from homelessness.
What makes you most hopeful right now?
I am hopeful that out of this pandemic our community, and communities across the country, who are now realizing the importance of affordable housing will step up and figure out how to create it to end family homelessness once and for all.
Do you have a favorite story from the past few months?
One of my favorite things to talk about over the past few months is the care and compassion we are seeing in our community. The people who have the means are reaching out to support those who are in need. With each fundraiser we have conducted since March, we have raised over 150% of our goal and in some cases 200-300% of our goal. This allows us to help so many more families and there are so so many of them. Most of the families we are serving right now have never experienced homelessness and never thought they would be in this position. They reach out to us after we have helped them to tell us how appreciated the help was and how hard it was to ask for.
What is your favorite part about working with Family Promise?
My favorite part about working with Family Promise is how the community is involved in the solution and comes together to address this issue. You don’t see this with most other organizations and it warms my heart.
What made you want to get involved with fighting homelessness?
I was homeless as a young adult and then again after my divorce with a small child. I did not know where to turn and learned the hard way how to put the pieces of my life back together. I got involved with fighting homelessness because I wanted to help others, and especially single moms, to not have to do that alone.