The COVID-19 health crisis has been a proving ground for Americans across the country, and no less so for Family Promise Affiliates, volunteers, and partners as social service providers resort to unique, creative, and resourceful measures that ensure vulnerable families continue to receive the support they need while working to regain independence.
Without a home, how does a family safely shelter in place and self-isolate? It’s a challenging time, and as the health pandemic continues to develop Affiliates are keeping pace, adjusting protocols and practices to serve families battling homelessness.
Family Promise’s rotational shelter model has ceased to operate due to shelter-in-place mandates, but Affiliates have found alternate ways, including forging valuable partnerships, to keep families housed. Affiliates like Family Promise of the Capital Region, NY, Family Promise of Hall County, GA, and Family Promise of North Shore Boston, MA, among many others have been able to turn their day centers into a home base for families in their shelter programs, preparing separate quarters to maintain the highest level of safety for each family.
Family Promise of Greater Savannah, GA, has partnered with Airbnb owners to use vacant properties as temporary housing during the crisis. In the Union County, NJ, program, staff collaborated with local landlords to put families in unoccupied apartments for the duration of the pandemic, and in Blount County, TN, Family Promise applied for a United Way grant to cover rent for the families in its transitional housing program who are financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Family Promise of Clark County, WA, has taken advantage of Family Promise’s national partnership with Motel 6 and also worked with other local motels to house families during the quarantine period. And Family Promise of Morris County, NJ, has teamed up with other area service providers to obtain housing vouchers and coordinate housing with landlords, who are creating virtual tours of their vacant properties so families can view them online. The Affiliate is working with Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore home improvement and donation centers to furnish the spaces.
“Habitat did a free online virtual tour of their inventory so families can pick out furniture and have it delivered free of charge,” says Morris County Executive Director Joann Bjornson. “They’re furnishing entire apartments for us!”
Family incomes across the nation have been drastically impacted by business closures, and Family Promise families are no exception. Many parents employed in low-wage jobs in the service and hospitality industries have found themselves out of work as businesses have halted operations or implemented limited hours and reduced staff.
“It’s disheartening, “ notes Sue Crossley, executive director of Family Promise MetroWest, MA. “These families worked so hard to become independent, and they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them.”
Executive Director of Family Promise of Greater Savannah, GA, Katrina Bostick agrees.
“Some of the parents [in our program] had just gone back to work, and now they’ll have to wait a little longer and get through this quarantine,” she says.
Not only are Affiliates working with these families to identify services and supports while unemployed, they are helping them cope with the emotional side of the crisis.
Referring to the precarious employment situation, Blount County, TN, Executive Director Caroline Lamar says, “That uncertainty is just another stress for families. We’re concerned with [their] emotional wellbeing, not just their financial wellbeing.”
Parents employed with what have been deemed essential businesses are faring slightly better, although they face new challenges, too, like increased work hours and finding – and affording – child care now that children are out of school.
“Most childcare centers have closed,” says North Shore Boston Executive Director Rachel Hand. “We’ve had to work with families to make other arrangements.”
At Family Promise of Greater Savannah, one such solution involved donated gas gift cards for parents working in the healthcare field so they could take their children to stay with relatives or friends.
“People in healthcare might be terminated if they don’t show up for work,” explains Bostick. “This way they can continue to work and not worry about childcare or their children’s health. These parents want to stay viable in the workforce. They don’t want to experience another episode of homelessness.”
Affiliates continue to provide remote case management and check on families daily to ensure needs are being met. All report that their volunteers have made the crisis more manageable for everyone. Preparing meals that Affiliates distribute by doorstep deliveries or curbside pickup, making Easter baskets for children, collecting supplies for “Blessing Boxes” that contain items a family needs, becoming online buddies to offer emotional and moral support during this trying time…volunteers are going above and beyond to ensure families continue to move forward and that life is as normal as possible for children.
And families are giving back. For instance, at a local diaper drive in Hall County, GA, an area with a significant Hispanic presence, a Family Promise mom who speaks Spanish offered to serve as a liaison/translator. Families from the Union County, NJ, program have a private Facebook page where they can connect to share information and encouragement. Affiliates across the country report that families are holding up well and managing the situation as best they can and are grateful to Family Promise for being there for them during these unprecedented times.
Executive Director of the Hall County, GA, Affiliate Lindsey McCamy, speaking of emergency shelter and homelessness prevention programs, predicts, “When this is all over, I think there will be so much need in the community. We need to be prepared so when that surge comes, we’re ready.”
With relatively little time to plan for a situation like this, Family Promise Affiliates have rallied to the task and are working hard to keep families healthy and safe while continuing to guide them on the path to independence. But once this crisis has subsided, Mary Giordano, executive director of the Capital Region, NY, Affiliate, says this pandemic can offer great lessons. She’s only half-joking when she says, “We’ll have to add pandemic crisis training to our program!”