At Homes for Families’ June Community Meeting, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care shared timely updates on the re-opening process of child care centers across the state.
There were some key resources shared including interactive trainings and webinar series available free online; as well as tools and resources for families and providers to use with children. Please see below for these resources that have received positive feedback from providers and came highly recommended by EEC! You can find EEC’s powerpoint here, and an infographic with more about Head Start in particular, a type of child care that all children experiencing homelessness are eligible for, here. In addition, the department is continually updating their Frequently Asked Questions around the re-opening process. You can find their most recent FAQs document here, including information regarding subsidies on pages 16 and 17.
A Resource List for talking with children about race, racism and racialized violence from the Center for Racial Justice in Education
We hope you find these resources helpful as we navigate what Massachusetts’ re-opening process looks like. For more resources and ongoing action opportunities, please stay connected with us via social media: Facebook & Twitter.
At our May Community meeting, Policy Action Team meeting, and Consumer Advocacy Team meeting we discussed COVID-19, equity, immigration and race. We learned a lot from a variety of different presenters, including MIRA coalition, HarborCOV and the Massachusetts Public Health Association (the lead agency behind the Equity Task Force on COVID-19). We are happy to share some of our key take-aways, along with resources and suggestions for providers!
Key Take Away #1: The virus is compounding existing inequalities in our society
Some examples from HarborCOV:
Chelsea, a city with one of highest rates of COVID in Massachusetts, has a large working class, immigrant, and POC population. It is hard to practice social distancing because there is a lot of overcrowded housing. Moreover, these working folks are highly represented in social service jobs. They need to work to continue to feed their families and pay rent, and therefore have a higher chance of becoming infected. But unfortunately, many of these folks are cut out of benefits — they are ineligible for stimulus checks or unemployment, if they have not had a work permit for long enough.
Decades of racist policing, prosecution, and sentencing have resulted in the gross over-incarceration of POC, particularly black men. Social distancing is impossible in jail, and these folks are often ignored for basic medical care, let alone COVID prevention measures. These injustices compound, so people who have already been over-policed are now over-punished with COVID exposure.
Similarly, this administration has resisted offering medical care to people in immigration jails. Despite the government’s reluctance to test these folks, approximately 50% of ICE detainees who have been tested are positive for COVID. People in immigration jail often have no criminal charges or, by definition, have likely already served their criminal sentence. The government is unnecessarily punishing them with incarceration and COVID exposure.
Here, an HFF Consumer Advocacy Team member, who is a critical worker, describes some of the added challenges that essential workers are facing right now:“I still had to go to work but was scared to commute to work on the MBTA so I had been taking UBERs/Lyft’s. However, because many people aren’t working right now the ride share prices have gone up and they are not doing their pool option, which makes it expensive to go to work. Then, having to find some ne to watch my kids has also been a struggle because many people do not want people coming in and out of their houses during this time. I had to make the decision to stop working”
Key Take Away #2: Data plus priorities chosen through a racial equity lens are needed to address inequalities
There is important advocacy underway to urge Massachusetts policymakers to collect and report out on COVID-19 related data by race and other key categories (e.g. immigrant status, occupation status). Learn more and take action here! Meanwhile, we can improve our advocacy and services, if we also questions about unintended consequences and who benefits the most by our chosen policies and practices.
Here are some questions that might be used as a guide when deciding on policy and practice changes:
What are the racial impacts and who will be most impacted?
Who will benefit and who will be burdened; and have we considered unintended consequences?
How are affected community members engaged in this?
How can we monitor implementation?
Key Take Away #3: Opportunity to shift our frame on “essential workers”
Inspired by MIRA Coalition: This experience with COVID-19 has highlighted the variety of different essential workers in our communities and across our country. They are disproportionately immigrants, people of color, and people with lower-incomes. We need to come to understand and appreciate “essential workers” as essential and valuable not only in times of crisis, but all of the time.
Resources and Recommendations for Providers
From MIRA Coalition: We urge service providers to really think about the ways that they can be flexible in how they provide services to ensure they are inclusive.
Some barriers to consider include participant’s lack of awareness of scope of services due to a language or cultural barrier.
Understand immigrants can have fear of exposure. A provider can sit down to fill out an application and may not realize that if they are working with an immigrant family, disclosing a lot of this info can feel really risky.
There can be general mistrust of authority that is well founded based on what immigrants have experienced in their home country but also what they have experienced here. It’s important to understand that privacy and secrecy can be a strategy that is adopted to keep safe and not necessarily an indication of whether they trust you as a service provider.
Some Resources on Immigrants, Public Charge, and COVID-19:
We hope you find these resources and insights useful in our ongoing collective work to learn, improve, and get to the root causes of inequities that many families experiencing homelessness are confronting.
The horrific murder of George Floyd is incomprehensible. It’s an all too familiar tragic loss of a Black life that is consequential to the systemic racism ingrained in the fabric of our country. Perhaps most bothersome of the recent incidents was the action of Amy Cooper, the White woman who falsely made accusations against a Black man who was bird watching in Central Park. It was a display of racism in its most pernicious form. As a Black person, grief, frustration, and anger are real. And as the mother of a Black son, it’s unexplainable the fear and anxiety that grips my heart every day in the thought of losing him senselessly and prematurely. A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “ If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, and you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”
In this moment of darkness that our country finds itself, I’m yet encouraged by the resolute and courageous actions of the thousands of young Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life that have stood up in protest that we must do better as a nation. It is the commitment of Homes For Families to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and take action to address ongoing public policies, institutional practices, and cultural narratives that perpetuate racial inequalities and constrain mobility for the homeless families we serve. Homes For Families will continue to lift the voices of families and boldly and courageously confront racist practices and policies that create systemic barriers for Black and ethnic minority groups.
Homes For Families is grateful and honored to join those who have committed to doing “the work” that needs to be done to move our nation forward.
Nicole Stewart Chief Executive Officer Homes For Families
In the need of some positive ideas for how to boost resilience for yourself, your staff and/or families you work with during these challenging times? Inspired by the domains of resilience diagram below, Homes for Families’ Policy Action Team shared some examples of how their family shelter agencies are building resilience.
HFF’s Policy Action Team-inspired examples for building resilience within the family shelter setting (these are examples from different family shelter providers and partner agencies, that are a part of our policy action team, many of which are descriptions of practices happening currently within family shelters):
Creating an overall level of emotional flexibility within congregate (family shelter) settings where tensions tend to run high, even on a good day.
Case managers are really trying to bring and provide some emotional space in their approach and in their actions, allowing families to feel the way that they feel, without any level of judgment and giving leeway around repercussions – recognizing everyone has these feelings, anxieties and it’s ok to feel the way.
For staff and participants, finding ways for them to feel power within their own lives again. The whole situation makes people feel powerless, and when talking about survivors of Domestic Violence (DV), especially, who have already experienced so much loss of power, talking about what they want to do, planning ahead, looking forward to stuff, thinking of things to do in the house, and sometimes doing those things with them, all can help. This includes: safety planning around what if I get the virus.
At our congregate shelter, we do a check in: in the morning and at night (optional of course and physical distancing is observed). We are in one big meeting space where folks can be spread apart and we create space for families to share what they hope will happen that day and how they are feeling on that day. At the end of day, they can reflect on how the day went and how they are feeling about the day now (it’s simple but provides a space for productive and kind interactions, amidst
sometimes explosive, tough behavior under these circumstance).
Especially for kids, the emotional piece is important: this is a huge change to what life looked like before, so to help them do activities where they can get out their energy but control their own bodies. So you can do high energy activity and then calm activity to follow. It helps them learn they can be safe in their space and gives them a chance to connect with grownups, while helping them learn how to regulate their own bodies, and navigate big feelings.
Being able to have open conversations within an agency, across levels of staff (e.g. from mid or front line staff speaking to supervisors and CEOs) where staff express how they are feeling and can be honest about the challenges right now. One Policy Action Team member shared an example where one person finally opened up to leadership and said how much they were struggling. And eventually, it opened up to a lot of conversation. What hit the most was to hear our leadership tell us it is perfectly natural to re-define what “our best” is. Doing “our best” needed to be re-defined. “It was a really healing phrase. “
For leadership to be caring for staff and make sure any group meeting, includes a self care piece, so staff know what can be provided.
Supporting staff during this time, means putting in hazard pay (increased compensation) for staff on the front lines.
Sending, via text or other virtual methods, simple notes of appreciation to families, to staff.
Having extra compassion and flexibility with each other.
Homes for Families sees building resilience during this challenging time, as directly connected to promoting trauma informed care. As a partner at our April Community Meeting shared, promoting trauma informed care during this time can be as simple as having extra compassion and flexibility with each other.
We are grateful to be connected with all of you, the Homes for Families network of providers, families, advocates and partners. You hold a wealth of knowledge, insight, love and compassion that we hope to continue to draw out. We’ll be sharing ideas and practices we need in order to bring our best selves to the table for each other and families facing housing instability and homelessness at this time.
Liz and Team HFF
We’ve created a shareable pamphlet with these self-care and resiliency tips.
On behalf of the Homes for Families Board of Directors, it is with great excitement that we announce the appointment Nicole Stewart as the Chief Executive Officer of Homes for Families, effective today, April 20th, 2020.
We are fortunate to have someone of Nicole Stewart’s caliber and experience join the HFF team. We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history, and we are looking forward to her renewed leadership to successfully implement Homes for Families’ mission of uniting families impacted by homelessness, policy makers, and providers to address the root causes of family homelessness in Massachusetts. Stewart most recently served as the Program Director for Bridge Home at St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children. Experienced in motivational team-building and staff development, she cultivated a reliable team and established programmatic systems, structures, and practices that significantly improved the quality of programming, care, and treatment for every child served.
A distinguished community leader, Stewart was selected to participate in Boston’s premier career leadership program, LeadBoston. She also served on Memorial Spaulding Elementary School Council and has facilitated multicultural and anti-racism classes for numerous community education programs.
Although her previous experience is very impressive – it is her versatility that caught the attention of the HFF Board of Directors. Throughout the interview process, we were struck by her acumen as a community leader demonstrated range of management experience and skills and passion for advocacy; that could not be more relevant or necessary to Homes for Families success in the years ahead.
Please join us in extending to Nicole the warmest of welcomes. We are excited to have her on board. We are looking forward to the future and have the highest confidence in Nicole and the rest of our outstanding Homes for Families team
We are grateful for the providers from across the state who came together for our Annual Member Appreciation Lunch and Meeting this past December. A lot of incredible ideas were generated on discussion topics ranging from stabilization to family led peer-to-peer engagement, and landlords to domestic violence.
We also honored an inspiring leader: Sarah Bayer, a long time member of the HFF community and provider in the field who has lead in countless ways over the years and who continues to inspire, ground, and support us.
We collect data on what policies to focus on through direct feedback from providers and families. At Visioning Day in August we gather information on focus areas, and at the annual member meeting we have the opportunity to look more specifically at policies. A fun activity we do virtually every year at the annual meeting is to ask providers to vote on policy proposals. We will take what came out of visioning day, the annual member meeting, and ongoing family and provider input to drive our areas of collective advocacy. Here you can see the results of providers’ votes on policy proposals.
We also created opportunities to network, have open dialogue, and ground ourselves in the work from a trauma informed and anti-racist lens. We always aim to leave providers feeling a little more appreciated and inspired in the incredible work they do every day. One table activity generated a “collective poem” written by multiple providers speaking to why they entered this line of work. Here are a couple of the collective poems from the day:
“I entered this line of work because I care about children and families, because what I do matters to the families I am connected to, because I believe that housing is a human right.
I wake up every day to do this work because…
I believe policy change leads to real change in people’s lives
Policy change must be led by the people directly impacted by the issue
Policy change is an action”
“I entered this line of work because I care about children and families, because what I do matters to the families I am connected to, because I believe that housing is a human right.
I wake up every day to do this work because…
I imagine how it might be if I were in that situation and I didn’t know if anyone cared
Hunger and homelessness are interlinked and the experience of both can lead to higher risk of family separation, being held back at school, experiencing higher health risks such as asthma, and developmental delays. National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an annual program to bring attention to these important issues.
Across the Commonwealth over 90,000 children live in neighborhoods where over 30% of residents have incomes below the poverty line. This means a household of four is using their income of about $25,570 a year to pay for the cost of housing, utilities, food, childcare, transportation, and more. These basic necessities are often put in competition with one another, as housing prices continue to rise.
This year, Homes for Families will be participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week during the week of November 16th to the 24th. We will be sharing important information on hunger and homelessness nationally and in the Commonwealth.
We are witness to the ways in which families experiencing housing instability and food scarcity meet these challenges with resourcefulness and resiliency, creating abundance in the face of scarcity. There are many examples of how family shelters, and community partners in Massachusetts do this with families as well. At our November Community Meeting we had a dialogue about just this and key themes emerged around the importance of autonomy, control and choice for families. Here are some of the examples of where scarcity in housing and food stability is met with abundance, followed by some opportunities to learn and improve when it comes to the family shelter setting.
Promoting Abundance in Community Done Well:
Donations when aligned with what families want: E.G. Asking for size, need, and following up to ensure need is met
Gift cards for teens and tweens specifically – gives control and autonomy for families to choose
Taking parent wishes, making it beautifully wrapped
Case manager collecting from families what is wanted
Asking families what food they want for the holidays and if they want to help prepare
Opportunities for Improvement/Lessons Learned:
The way staff receives donations- make sure it is family-centric and empathetic
Families to have increased involvement with which foods are available for greater cultural variety, for general variety in what is served- pantries to reach out to charities for support in meeting need for fresh foods, and a variety of foods.
Understand the impact of staff having toys visible- families will ask about specific toys; the impact of when families know what other families have received
Vetting sources of donations
Working on effectively managing and getting gifts out: The process, being understaffed, having few vehicles. Where could vehicle/driving donations be made by services like Uber/Lyft?
Giving throughout the year, and shelters using gifts as incentives.
Whether it’s through a communal meal, being surrounded by loved ones, or a warm welcome , when we find abundance through the support of community, so much more is possible.
At our Policy Acton Team (PAT) meeting in September, we had a very informative and interactive presentation from Meghan Schafer from Horizons for Homeless Children. Not only did she provide a wealth of information on how family shelters can create safe, welcoming, inclusive and trauma informed spaces for children, but shelter providers at the meeting offered their own ideas on how to implement what research tells us kids need. Check out this Horizons video on effective strategies for play that promote healing.
Turns out that supporting kids in playing, yes PLAYING, builds resiliency, ability to cope with and overcome trauma, and overall healthy development in children. Here are some ideas of shelter-based techniques that came from our group of providers:
making outdoor space accessible, inviting and safe: cutting the grass, fencing in the area, and making it free of trash, etc.
maintaining a supply closet with age appropriate toys to be able to offer to families when they arrive
providing staff training to understand what children need and to support children and families in a trauma informed way, e.g. children’s need to move around freely
having baking ingredients on hand for families to bake with children
giving children the space to build up trust to feeling comfortable to go to staff for a hug or comfort, and then staff being there for that kind of support
facilitating opportunity for open play and interaction with other kids in the shelter
Members of our Homes for Families Consumer Advocacy Team (families who have experienced homelessness) also added that it’s important to understand and acknowledge that behaviors can stem from a child’s current environment and children may carry stress from what they have experienced or are currently experiencing in shelter. Tools for relieving stress could help, for example, sensory toys and activities. Access to academic support would be valuable as well, including volunteer tutors or book donations.
In addition to these ideas, we suggest looking carefully at representation in play spaces – is there multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-racial, gender fluid, etc. representation? Recognizing that all kids are different/look different, the room should reflect that. Making a space cozy and welcoming can go a long way too, especially within the context of a more sterile shelter environment. Color on the walls, comfortable chairs, and warm lighting are ideas to consider for making a space more homey.
Children’s Issues come up as a high priority again and again when Homes for Families asks families and providers to list important advocacy issue areas. There are many areas of focus within that large umbrella of children’s issues, of course. Safety is one of those focus areas among shelter providers and families, and in recent years, greater attention has been given to preventing child sexual abuse. We are committed to shining a light on this issue and sharing best practices as well. Darkness to Light provides a lot of resources. Here, you can find information for 5 steps to protecting our children on their website.
Let us know what you find useful, or if you have more to add to the conversation or best practices to share!
We are patiently awaiting for the Emergency Assistance 4th Quarter Report to be posted on the DHCD website. That report will have the un-duplicated totals for the 2019 fiscal year, July 1, 2018 through June 30th, 2019. In the meantime, we have been analyzing the June monthly report, which is currently posted online. The June report has the year end totals, but does not have un-duplicated numbers – this means a family that applies for EA shelter multiple times is counted as many times as they submitted an application. Once the quarterly report comes out, we will share more numbers and info-graphics…and in the meantime, we present the following:
Fig. 1: Applications and Placements
Please note, that this is the un-duplicated number. And for comparison – 8,145 applications were processed in FY2018, with 4,895 families entering the EA system. Over, 7,000 applications and 4,000 new entries per year is a very overwhelming number, especially when we stop to consider the humans and children those numbers represent. At the peak crisis, in FY2014 -13,115 applications were processed and 6,562 families entered the system.
Fig. 2: Applications and Placement by Region
Data often inspires more questions than answers; there is a lot to consider here, including front door practices and regional differences. These rates have varied over time, but without knowing the reasons families are deemed ineligible, it makes it hard to understand trends, develop prevention strategies, and understand how to address unmet needs.
Fig. 3: Reasons for Homelessness – Evictions
The most common reasons for homelessness, per DHCD reports and how the data is collected, remain irregular housing at 41% of FY19 entries, and actively fleeing domestic violence at and staying in places not meant for human habitation – each at 16%. The reports parse out the Eviction categories, so the total percent (14%) or number of families (471) entering EA shelter as a direct result of eviction is easily overlooked. This data does inspire solutions and helps makes the case for some of the initiatives before the legislature and municipalities. These include more funding for Eviction Prevention programs, including RAFT and TPP; new initiatives like Right to Council and revisiting old ideas, like Rent Control and new imperatives like combating tenant blacklisting (read more here and here).
Fig. 4: Shelter Exits
A total of 3,090 households exited the EA shelter system in FY2019, this includes – 445 households that “abandoned shelter”, 364 families that found other feasible alternative housing without any financial assistance, and 290 families on a Temporary Shelter Interruption. A total of 2,036 household exited shelter with the help of HomeBASE and/or another subsidy or financial assistance. Only 674 households exited the system with a “permanent” subsidy. With the gap between wages and rent, exacerbated by the growth of the low wage job market and steep rises to tent, and the number of families entering homelessness each year, the number of subsidies must increase if we are to continue to make progress addressing homelessness in MA.
We previously posted on how you can take action to prevent the public charge rule from taking effect, and despite Massachusetts and and other states surpassing their goals on advocacy in opposition to the proposed changes around public charge, the new rules are slated to take effect October 15th. Some members of the immigrant community will be assessed more harshly when officials are determining if they will be a public charge, and their applications for legal status therefore denied.
We had the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA) present at our September Community Meeting. They are a part of a larger nationwide coalition Protecting Immigrant Families, and emphasized that no one needs to un-enroll in benefits. Immigrants affected by public charge assessments are those who will not be found eligible for public benefits to begin with.
For more on what public charge is, what will be changing, and how you can take action see MIRA’s fact sheet. You can also go to https://ProtectingImmigrantFamilies.org/. Congress can act to prevent the Trump administration from having the funding to carry out the rule changes. You can get your voice on record with your congresspeople, via the Protecting Immigrant Families website, where it says Take Action. Most likely, our best bet to stop the changes, is through one of the 6 lawsuits underway.
You can also share stories of impacted families with your elected officials (if it’s not your story of course seek families’ approval and keep their information anonymous). All stories are helpful: not only related to public charge, but as they relate to other immigration issues including on the pending HUD proposal that would make families of mixed immigrant status ineligible for section 8 housing. See our previous post on this!