Thursday, July 9, 2020 The Latest · Voices of Family Promise
CLAAS IN 60 GOES LIVE | Kat Lilley Talks About How Family Promise Has Responded to COVID-19
Each week, Family Promise’s CEO, Claas Ehlers, is joined by a guest on Facebook Live to talk about topics impacting the Family Promise network, our guests, and supporters. Learn more by following Family Promise on Facebook.
In this episode from earlier this spring, Claas talks with Kat Lilley. Kat Lilley is the Executive Director of Family Promise of Colorado Springs, a member of Family Promise’s National Board of Trustees, and a member of our Guest Advisory Council. Claas spoke with Kat about Family Promise’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on a national and local level.
A full transcript is available below.
Claas Ehlers and Kat Lilley discuss Family Promise’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on a national and local level.
Claas Ehlers: Alright. Hello, everybody. This is Claas in 60 Seconds Goes Live. So, first off, if you’re expecting us to be done in 60 seconds, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s probably going to take about 15 minutes. But the good news is, it’s not just Claas. In fact, it’s mostly Kat Lilley, my guest for this first Facebook Live endeavor that we are doing here.
So, I’m Claas Ehlers, CEO of Family Promise, and I have with me Kat Lilley, who is the CEO of Family Promise of Colorado Springs, as well as a member of the national Guest Advisory Council. And we’re going to be talking about the impact of COVID[-19] on Family Promise, on homelessness, family homelessness more broadly and some of the ways we’re responding in the near term as well as some of the ways that this is going to impact future services as well as the future needs.
So, I’ll be engaged in conversation with Kat. Kat, you want to say hi?
Kat Lilley: Hi, Claas. Thanks for having me here.
Claas: It’s great to have you. So, I think, you know, it’s interesting, your Affiliate, so the Colorado Springs Affiliate has grown phenomenally in the past couple years. Really expanding services. Really embracing the vision of preventing homelessness. Providing services and doing that long-term stabilization work in a number of different ways. So, I think probably the place to start is, just give us an overview of the recent growth that kind of set us up for when COVID[-19] had hit and some of the changes you had to make as a result.
Kat: Yeah, absolutely. So, Colorado Springs has been experiencing, like you said, exponential growth over the last five years. And so, we really have been taking on a holistic approach to addressing family housing and stability and homelessness.
What that looks like today is that we operate a prevention and diversion program that includes rapid rehousing and then we operate a traditional IHN (Interfaith Hospitality Network) congregational rotation shelter, which shelters four families at a time in faith group space.
And then [on] February 28th, we launched a static site shelter, which we called the New Promise Family Shelter, which shelters 16 families at a time. And then we also provide transitional housing, our Hope Homes program, which provides formerly homeless families with homeownership opportunity, and then, all of our services provide graduate support. So families who have successfully transitioned into stable housing can remain stable and receive services for 12 months post-service with us.
Claas: That’s incredible. How many families, how many households, do you kind of serve in all of those programs? What’s that sort of total number?
Kat: So, before COVID[-19], we were sitting at about 115 households. In the last month, we had to expand to meet the growing need of families that were facing housing instability. And so, today we’re serving 193 families.
Claas: Wow, yeah. And that goes to, you know, my next question, which is, it’s interesting that you guys had converted that hotel. It was incredible, right? If people haven’t, you should go to the Colorado Family Promise Colorado Springs Facebook page and website to see about that. It’s just such an incredible effort that you guys made. You did that right before everything started to change, so COVID[-19] hit.
Som kind of walk us through some of the immediate impacts as we implemented social distancing and stay at home and all of those things.
Kat: So when COVID[-19] started, we were less than 30 days into full operations at our New Promise Family Shelter, which is a low-barrier shelter for families with children. And so, we were still kind of learning our way through that and getting our bruises when everything started. And all of a sudden it was, ‘OK, we need to look at our community space. We need to look at how we disinfect things in this property, how we ensure that our families can be safely distanced.’
Thankfully, it’s a non-traditional shelter model, in that each of our families have their own rooms in the space, so we had the luck of being able to isolate those families pretty easily should we need to. The biggest impact definitely hit out IHN rotational model shelter because, all of a sudden, we had four families that didn’t have a place to go. We received notification on a Thursday that the next congregation would be closing their doors and our families didn’t have anywhere to go on Sunday.
And so, we had to figure out where we were going to house four families temporarily and how we were going to feed them. And the lack of in-kind donations through that program hit us hard.
Claas: And did you see, you know, when it first hit, did you see a spike in need, an cessation in need?
I mean, we heard around the country. What we heard a lot of was, because there was an eviction moratorium in place because of the crisis time, people sort of hunkered down and you didn’t see a lot of new families coming into the system. Was that true in Colorado Springs?
Kat: So, Colorado Springs doesn’t have an eviction moratorium. Our governor issued an advisory asking people to not do it.
Claas: Not to do a moratorium or not to do evictions?
Kat: Not to do evictions. Yeah. The request that landlords be willing to work with households that are in there.
So, we really, we really started really hunkering down with COVID[-19] on March 15th and we started seeing a spike in need and services that hit the first week in April when families were missing that next rent payment. And that there wasn’t a moratorium protecting our families and so our families in Colorado are covered by the federal moratorium. So, if there’s a landlord that has a federally backed mortgage, those landlords are unable to evict in Colorado, but the vast majority of our private landlords don’t have any incentive not to move forward with evictions, especially with our new tenant guidelines where it takes 30 days more to evict a family.
And so, we’ve seen a lot of families that have lost income, have lost child care and then are facing losing their homes all because a pandemic hit and it was something completely out of their control.
Claas: And that’s, you know, that was initially and that’s continued. So you’re continuing to see this uptick in need.
Kat: We are and thankfully my phenomenal team really anticipated that there was going to be an uptick in need. And so, as soon as we saw that there was going to be layoffs and businesses were closing down, we really started working hard to fundraise to increase our prevention program and we were able to actually triple that budget in under 30 days.
And so we’re really working hard to make sure that, during this uncertain time, we can keep families in their home and ensure that they’re not displaced into a shelter system that doesn’t have the capacity to serve them.
Claas: Right. I mean, that’s right. I think that is, you know — for all of the challenging elements — I think this did flick a switch for people to understand. You’ve got to stay at home. You’ve got to shelter in place, right? You stay at home and socially distanced during a crisis, which is antithetical to homelessness.
And, you know, and I do think that there is an emerging understanding that, you know, family homelessness — homelessness in general — and family homelessness, are obviously awful on a human level, awful a fiscal level, awful on a societal level, but they’re also awful on a public health level.
Have you seen — I mean, have you seen that sort of understanding? Do you see community leaders recognizing that allowing so much homelessness to exist, allowing it to continue to exist, is wrong in so many ways?
Kat: I think that there’s been an increased awareness definitely of the impact on overall public health as it relates to homelessness. And we’ve been having a lot of different conversations around how we can ensure that we’re communicating effectively with the broader community because the vast majority of people are going to understand that, you know, people should not be without a home and then the vast majority of people also understand that you know, I have a home and so it hits closer to home when there are so many people that are more visible in shelters.
Our library district closed down, which serves a lot of our individual homeless population during the day because the shelters aren’t open during the day and, all of a sudden, we got to see all of the unsheltered population more visibly because there was no place to go. And so there’s definitely been a heightened awareness. I think one of the interesting pieces that’s come out of this is our community is talking more about, how do you, say, practice safe distancing and social distancing inside mass shelters and how can we look at our shelter dynamics so that we can provide more space for people to be able to have that separation and really digging deep into how our shelter models will be sustainable as this cycles in and out for, you know, the long term.
Claas: Yeah, and I think it’s a critical point that we can’t foretell the future, but it’s pretty strongly likely that there’ll be another outbreak of COVID and other things like this, too. I mean, I think, right? I certainly would not want to go into business for an all-you-can-eat buffet anymore because I don’t think that’s going to be socially acceptable. And you know, it’s a business. That business model has probably disappeared.
So, you know, with that in mind, what are some of the changes you’ve made, and what are some of the plans you’re making for the future? I know you can’t have, I don’t believe you have, all the answers for that. We don’t have all the answers for that. We’re still trying to figure it out, but I know you’re going to have a lot of good things to say on it.
Kat: So, my leadership team and I are in constant dialogue about, ‘what does the future look like for our different programs.’ And how can we ensure that we’re best serving families in Colorado Springs to maintain and achieve that housing stability? The biggest conversations we’re having, right now, for the long-term, is really our IHN rotational model shelter. There is a magic that exists in that model, where, you know, it’s not families being separated from the broader community while they’re experiencing homelessness. But the community comes around them and supports them and loves them and we don’t want to lose that magic. But we know that where we’re currently housing our families, and have been for the last 8 weeks, is not sustainable. And so, we’re trying to look at, how can we tweak that model so that if congregations remain closed, or should they have to close again in the future, that our families have a sense of structure and safety, as well as that community involvement.
So, we’re looking a lot at virtual volunteerism. How can we engage all of these congregational volunteers and give the volunteers their engagement with the families, as well? Because I know our volunteers are really missing our families, too. And so, we’re looking at virtual tutoring. We’re looking at virtual storytimes and things that support our kiddos, as well as mentorships, so that families, you know, a family in the community or a congregation can come alongside a family that’s going through housing instability and support them one-on-one so that engagement still happens.
We’re also looking at how we can really make sure to beef up all of our programs to ensure that this growing need can be met in the community and be met quickly and that growth can continue to be sustainable.
Claas: Yeah. I want to kind of close out with two questions. And, you know this is such an interesting conversation. I actually was just talking with Carolyn Gordan and a representative from a national denominational body because there’s sort of this interesting — you know, in the Family Promise model, we’d always thought of congregations and volunteers as being this synthetic piece and what we discovered is there’s actually some separation there. And we knew there are volunteers outside of the congregational model, but that our congregational pool and our volunteer pool is not necessarily the same thing as the congregation. And that pivot.
So, I want to go back to that — because I want to end on a positive note, but, I guess, first let me ask you, what are your biggest concerns? What are the things that are really weighing on you, both kind of very very much in your own local dynamics as well as just sort of more societal within Colorado Springs? Like what is it about for Family Promise of Colorado Springs, what is it for Colorado springs overall, that’s kind of most weighing on you?
Kat: So, I think for Family Promise of Colorado Springs, my biggest weight right now is that we’ve seen an excellent outpouring for our prevention programs and really working to keep families in their homes. There’s been an off-tick though in shelter support. And trying to draw that correlation of, we have to keep families at home when possible and as much as possible, but our families that don’t have homes need support, too. And we need to be able to make sure that we are able to support the families that are trying to move from a shelter situation into that independent housing.
I think on a broader scale, my biggest concern is that a lot of the federal funding and the CARES Act coming down does not have the flexibility for us to serve the families that we know have been living in motels, some for years. And we really need to be able to keep those families safe and secure in their living situation, too, while we work to move them into something more permanent.
Claas: Yeah and just a note of elucidation on that is, right, families who are paying for their own stay in motels are not homeless under the HUD definition. The CARES Act funding is coming down through HUD channels. There’s been some relaxation of it and some flexibility, but there’s some big gaps.
And it just goes to a principle of, rather than saying, ‘OK, what is this family’s level of vulnerability? What is their risk? What does their current dynamic, whether they’re sleeping in a tent, sleeping in a shelter, sleeping in a motel, sleeping in a car, sleeping, you know, with cousin Judy, whatever it is.’ Let’s look at how do we get that family stabilized rather than what that core definition is.
What do you have to add to that and then I will try to end us on a positive note.
Kat: Well, I think it’s just, you know, family’s home environments when families are in an unstable situation differ and rather than getting into the mud, into the weeds, of well, you’ve been paying for a motel and we can’t support that. We need to just say, we need to keep you in your home environment while we work to move you into something that’s better.
Sorry, my computer is giving me reminders.
Claas: Alright, well and we will close it out with this. What do you think is the greatest opportunity that brings to us? As much as there’s all this stress and we know, we look at the potential unemployment rates, all these dynamics — what is it that you see as a shining star that maybe can create lasting change?
Kat: I think the shining star is the conversations that are happening both nationally and locally. We’re finally talking more about family homelessness. The families that have been invisible for as long as anybody can remember are finally in the limelight and this is really an opportunity for us to highlight those families, their vulnerabilities, and the best ways that we can serve them.
Family Promise is an excellent organization that really leads the charge in non-traditional methods of stabilizing families. And I think it’s an opportunity for us to make that more aware and help lead the charge in ending family homelessness.
Claas: Yeah, I agree. I agree. I mean, I think people — all those things that we’ve said about one paycheck away from homelessness and so on — people heard it, but I think it’s registering a different way now because they understand it. They said, well, if I was a server at Olive Garden, if I was a baggage handler at the airport, if I was an Uber driver, all these things would be resonant to me personally.
Alright, Kat. Well, this ends our Claas in 60 Seconds, which was much more than 60 seconds, but much more content than the old typical Claas in 60 Seconds has because of your tremendous contributions, Kat. Thank you for everything you’re doing. Thank you for how you infuse back your best practices, your wisdom, to the national organization, to other Affiliates, and ultimately to that fight to reduce and end family homelessness. It was great having you as my first official guest. I will hope you come back and I think with that, we will say to everybody, if there is such a thing as a weekend, have a good weekend.
Kat: Thanks, Claas.
Claas: Thanks, Kat.