Family Promise MetroWest Addressing Homelessness During COVID Pandemic
FRAMINGHAM – Within days of the pandemic beginning, and the shutdowns across the Commonwealth and MetroWest beginning, Family Promise MetroWest was already stepping up to help families in need.
“One of our families included a hard-working mom who despite her pregnancy, continued working as an aide at a rehab center during COVID using PPE and carefully taking precautions. As her pregnancy was coming to term, we were determined to move her out of the hotel before the baby was born but had some major challenges. Her hours were decreasing at work and she would need unpaid time off when the baby was born; she had savings, but they would be deleted if she paid for all the move-out costs. We also needed to find an affordable apartment and a landlord who would be willing to rent to someone with such limited income during an eviction moratorium,” explained Family Promise MetroWest Executive Director Sue Crossley.
“It was a stressful few months but in July, we found an apartment in Framingham with a landlord who was willing to rent if we co-signed the lease. We paid the security deposit, she paid the first month’s rent and we are providing a monthly subsidy for one year to help Mom get back on her feet. She moved into the apartment on July 29 and 17 days later her beautiful baby girl entered the world having her own home,” said Crossley.
Family Promise MetroWest was founded in 2008 by a network of multi-faith congregations that wanted work together to address an alarming rise in family homelessness in the greater Boston region, said Crossley.
The organization offers “shelter through a network of multi-faith host congregations that convert their classrooms into bedrooms for one week at a time, 3-4 weeks per year.”
As the pandemic began its first wave this spring, “our first challenge was establishing a safe place for our families in shelter to be socially distant from volunteers, other families and self-quarantine if needed. On March 17 we moved our four families in shelter from the congregations to a local hotel in Framingham,” said Crossley
“We secured a discount rate of $69/night per room, $2100/month per family for the hotel and estimated an additional $600/month per family for food that was previously provided by volunteers. The hotels are suites with small kitchenettes and 1-2 bedrooms that have worked well for our families as a temporary solution,” said Crossley.
“Volunteers provide food, overnight staffing, and supportive companionship. At our Day Center in Natick, we offer professional case management that helps families address the root causes of their homelessness. Once families move back into the community, we provide ongoing support through our transitional living program to ensure long-term sustainability. We also administer a homelessness prevention program that offers subsidies for rent in arrearage, case management, and monthly group trainings to families at risk of eviction,” explained Crossley.
But the coronavirus pandemic meant the organization had to pivot.
“This year with 48% of our families losing employment due to COVID, our families moving out of shelter have been faced with the challenge of finding landlords who will rent to them. As a result, we have cosigned or been guarantor for all our families moving out of shelter into the community. We have also increased our rental subsidies in transitional living from $550/month to as much as $1,600 in order to keep families moving from the hotel into the community,” said Crossley.
Normally, “when families reach their goals in shelter, they move into apartments in the community and are supported with rental subsidies and case management through our transitional living program,” explained Crossley.
For families who were in our LIFE prevention program when COVID hit, many have been laid off, furloughed, or have had hours reduced, putting them once again at risk of eviction and threatening the health and safety of their children. To ensure their sustainability, our case managers have been meeting with families to review adjusted income, expenses, and the challenges they have been facing. We have then provided guidance and support to ensure every family applied for emergency funding; unemployment, food stamps and RAFT-(rent money) to name a few, yet we have also provided temporary, direct subsidies for rent, utilities, food, and other essential household expenses,” said Crossley.
Family Promise MetroWest “emphasizes “a community approach to solving the crisis of family homelessness. We use the existing resource of empty congregational classrooms to house our families, and call upon the kindness and generosity of scores of individuals in the communities we serve to provide meals, professional advice, overnight staffing, and supportive companionship for families in crisis.”
The organization “provides intensive case management that is focused on identifying the root causes of our families’ homelessness or near eviction and addressing those challenges in a systematic, goal-oriented manner, in order to ensure long-term, sustainable change.”
And the organization evaluates and accepts “families into our programs primarily based on their motivation to change. We believe that families from all backgrounds and experiences can work their way into a better future if they are focused, goal-oriented, and hard-working.”
While Family Promise MetroWest services the entire region, the organization has “two partnerships with the city of Framingham that have made a direct, measurable impact” on families.
“The first is a partnership with the city’s program to provide security deposits when families are moving into their own apartment in Framingham. While our families save in shelter, the moving costs can delete these savings, so this program has been invaluable to help families move out on their own,” said Crossley.
“More recently, we established a partnership with the City of Framingham to apply for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) allowing families moving into Framingham to only pay 35% of their income toward rent. The advantage to this collaboration is the families will have a year during COVID to work with their case managers on long-term goals that will lead to sustainability. The case management is provided by Family Promise while the rental subsidies are through the TBRA program, and with our families already in a Framingham hotel for shelter, it will be a smooth transition into the Framingham community,” said Crossley.
As a result of COVID, two of the greatest needs for families are safe shelter and assistance when at risk of eviction, explained Crossley.
“In addition to shelter and assistance with preventing eviction we also are finding the need for affordable housing is greater than ever and imperative to address if we are to assist families in having housing that is sustainable for the future,” said Family Promise MetroWest’s Executive Director.
The organization needs funds to continue to help those in MetroWest.
“Our costs for shelter were totally pro-bono with housing donated by congregations and food donated by volunteers. With the onset of COVID and the need to move families to the hotel, we are now budgeting to $8,400/month for housing and $600/month to supplement food for the families,” explained Crossley.
“With the lifting on the moratorium of evictions in MA and a projected lifting of the CDC moratorium in January, we are preparing for a dramatic increase in the number of families facing eviction. The average cost to keep a family housed is $1500 per family,” said Crossley.
If you would like to donate to Family Promise MetroWest visit https://www.familypromisemetrowest.org/donate/
“The second way to help is by referring landlords that are open to renting to our families. Once they learn we will provide case management for a year after the family moves into the apartment, most landlords will work with us. Their trepidation during these times is understandable, but we stand behind our families,” said the exceutive director.
On Saturday, December 5, Family Promise MetroWest is hosting a star-studded virtual concert as well as an online auction to raise money for its program.
“COVID has impacted so many families on different levels and with unemployment still being so high we believe that our model of providing subsidies and case management will be essential for families to not only survive COVID but to have a bright future,” said Crossley.
Volunteers also are needed. If interested, visit https://www.familypromisemetrowest.org/get-involved/