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 Susan Crossley, Executive Director of Family Promise Metrowest.
Susan Crossley on How COVID-19 Has Impacted Family Promise Metrowest
Like most of the country, when COVID started we were watching its growth, yet unsure of the impact it would have on our community. Never would we have imagined that so much would happen so quickly.
In mid-March, Massachusetts became a hotspot and we were forced to make some immediate changes. For shelter, the congregations all started to close their buildings and while they were open to having our families there initially, we were concerned about the safety of the volunteers and the families. On March 17, we moved four families into a local hotel with suites that included a small kitchen and 1-2 bedrooms. Gift cards were provided for families to shop and prepare their own food.
Once the families moved, they received case management remotely. We already had laptops for our families and the Wi-Fi was good at the hotel, so the transition was smooth for the staff and families.
Since March, the original four families have moved from the hotel into apartments and we now have five new families in shelter. The cost is $2100/month per family for the hotel and an estimated $50 per person per week for food.
The families who moved out of shelter are now in our transitional living program. They are in their own apartments in the community, which we are subsidizing up to $550/month depending on income and need. Due to COVID and the fact that there is a moratorium on evictions in MA, we have either cosigned or been a guarantor on the leases to ensure landlords that we stand behind our families.
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?
Our LIFE homeless prevention program provides funding for rent in arrears or security deposits along with case management for one year to address the root causes of near eviction. We are currently serving 14 families in the program.
In October, the moratorium on evictions in MA is scheduled to end and we are anticipating a drastic increase in the number of families facing eviction. To prepare, we have been doing outreach in the community with food banks, landlords, and other partners to encourage families to apply for assistance now before they fall further behind and face eviction. We have also looked at our capacity to support projected growth of this program with estimates potentially doubling the amount of families served. One of our staff members is now doing intakes to support case management and the Program Coordinator for LIFE is ready to increase hours if needed to support more families. We are also holding a virtual concert in December with proceeds to be used for the LIFE program.
What makes you most hopeful right now?
The strength and resilience of our families. While there are many challenges with COVID, our families have faced adversity and continue to persevere.
Do you have a favorite story from the past few months?
While there have been many challenging days over the past several months, others are outstanding. And so it was on a Tuesday this summer when one of our families in shelter, Roberto and his daughter, moved out of the hotel and into their own apartment. This was a milestone for Roberto and a culmination of all we strive for at Family Promise—seeing our families succeed.
Roberto was one of the first in our first families to be laid off when COVID-19 hit. He was working in a restaurant near the Boston Garden, and it was one of the first to close. At the same time, we had to close our own day center and Roberto, along with our other families in shelter, had to move into a hotel to be safe. But rather than lose hope, Roberto hunkered in and saved his unemployment checks in preparation for still reaching his goal of moving out of shelter into an apartment of his own. When an apartment became available, he met the landlord and was transparent about his situation while also telling him he could pay three months of rent up front to secure the apartment.
We do a lot of outreach with landlords to explain how hard working and resilient our families are, but in this case, Roberto earned the respect of this landlord on his own.
Roberto and his daughter are now settled, he is working again, and she will begin school remotely this week. While these are uncertain times, we are certain Roberto and his daughter have a bright future.
What is your favorite part about working with Family Promise?
Knowing that we can make a difference in the lives of others by bringing a community together. We have seen firsthand what can happen when a motivated family is given the resources, guidance, and encouragement to change their lives. It is truly a privilege to lead this organization and be part of real change in the world.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about family homelessness in America and in your community?
That it can happen to anyone. Our families are hardworking, committed parents who never thought they would be in the position of not having a home for their children. Yet, in our area, the combination of low wages and lack of affordable housing have made homelessness a reality for many. I think with COVID and the high rate of unemployment in the country, more people are beginning to understand that this really can happen to anyone.