Thoughts, Tools and Resources for Promoting Racial and Immigrant Equity Amidst COVID-19

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:

Coronavirus and Immigration: ILRC's Resources and Responses ...
  • 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.

Freedom for Immigrants (@MigrantFreedom) | Twitter

Here are some questions that might be used as a guide when deciding on policy and practice changes:

  1. What are the racial impacts and who will be most impacted?
  2. Who will benefit and who will be burdened; and have we considered unintended consequences?
  3. How are affected community members engaged in this?
  4. 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.

In solidarity,

Liz and Team HFF

Putting Survey Data Into Practice: Part 2, Children

“If the providers understand the family’s perspective on things, they
are better able to help, are more sympathetic, and the family’s needs
can be better met.” 

— Homes for Families Consumer Advocacy Team (CAT) Member, 2017

In September of 2017, HFF released a full report on Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts. We are continuing to explore and build off of the survey data used in that report, and one way we are doing this is with this blog series, a continuation of the “Putting Survey Data Into Practice” document released in January. The series incorporates the perspectives of families and providers in relation to key data points, and works towards solutions for families and family-centered care.

Stay tuned every Monday in April at 10am for a new (coffee break) installment of this blog series!


Important points from the survey results (page numbers correspond to the full report):

  • 1 in 4 families surveyed indicated that they had additional children not with them in shelter (p. 10)
  • Nearly a third of families with school-aged children switched schools at least once (p. 16)


We wanted to hear from families! What would be some of the best approaches to address children’s needs and support the whole family while experiencing homelessness? The HFF Consumer Advocacy Team (CATs) shared their reflections, summarized here:

How can we better support family re-unification and serving the needs of the whole family?

  • Connect families with the resources they need, working to thoroughly identify needs across the whole family.
  • Increase support teams who will listen to the needs of families and help prepare families for re-unification.
  • Provide stabilization and support systems that work for the whole family.

How can we better address issues related to children switching schools?

  • Having focus groups with parents to further explore the issue.
  • Minimize the need for switching schools (placing families nearby children’s prior schools, providing transportation, etc.)
  • Ensure proper support systems that recognize the effects that switching schools may have on the whole family.

Where can we do better by children and families by making needed supports for children truly accessible, while keeping families intact?

  • More personalized understanding of a family’s whole situation, deeper than what shows up “on paper.”
  • Ensure that when families identify needs, connections are made toward the proper resources. 
  • Support families’ needs early on, before separation occurs. 



This post authored by I.W. & N.M.

Putting Survey Data Into Practice: Part 1 Health and Wellness

“If the providers understand the family’s perspective on things, they
are better able to help, are more sympathetic, and the family’s needs
can be better met.” 

— Homes for Families Consumer Advocacy Team (CAT) Member, 2017

In September of 2017, HFF released a full report on Family Experiences of Homelessness in Massachusetts. We are continuing to explore and build off of the survey data used in that report, and one way we are doing this is with this blog series, a continuation of the “Putting Survey Data Into Practice” document released in January. The series incorporates the perspectives of families and providers in relation to key data points, and works towards solutions for families and family-centered care.

Health & Wellness

Important points from the survey results:

  • Mental health is captured as a contributing cause of homelessness
  • A high percentage of parents reported their health and stress got worse after entering shelter.

Slide 8_REFACT

We wanted to hear from families! What would be some of the best approaches to address families’ health and wellness needs while experiencing homelessness? The HFF  Consumer Advocacy Team (CATs) shared their reflections, summarized here:

How can programs move toward addressing clinical needs?

  • Assessments—identify mental health needs and provide early support before homelessness, or challenges following homelessness, occur.
  • Front-door assessments are an opportunity to identify whether or not mental health may have been a contributing cause to a family’s displacement, and providing supports early on if they are necessary. 
  • Provide childcare to families—some are unable to receive proper care without it.

How can serving mental and emotional health needs be built into practice?

  • Recognize the different practical needs that families face compared to individuals—families should not have to choose between their health and their children. 
  • Trauma-informed care, a better understanding of the health issues associated with families being displaced; providers should have easy access to training, resources, and connections to health centers. 

How can we create a system that allows for greater flexibility and more specialization of services?

  • Find support early on, and do so through intake assessments to avoid making assumptions about a family’s specific needs. 
  • Staff training in specialty areas that address the different challenges families may face (domestic violence, substance abuse, etc.). 

This post is authored by I.W. & N.M.

January Community Meeting

Families, EA providers, and community members came together this month to talk about children’s issues:


One fifth of families who participated in the Family Survey had children with NO regular access to a primary care provider (PCP).

More than half of these children had no PCP at all.

Source: HFF Family Survey, see full report here

Maria Mossaides, the Child Advocate of Massachusettsshared what the quasi-public Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) does to serve children in the Commonwealth. She described some of the challenges that OCA faces in ensuring children receive all the services they need, as well as opportunities for better cross-agency collaboration.

Keith Chappelle, Policy Analyst from Children’s Health Watch (CHW), shared some of the research that CHW has done showing how homelessness affects young children.

Research shows homelessness is the “tip of the iceberg.” Food insecurity and energy insecurity often accompany housing insecurity—all of which seriously affect families and children. 

What issues for children experiencing homelessness stuck out to families and providers at the meeting?

  • Switching schools
  •  Immigration + TPS
  •  EA rules and regulations regarding parenting
  •  No services, lack of supports while in transition
  •  Instability, different impacts by age / development
  •  Bureaucratic delays (i.e. for transportation)
  •  Play space limitations
  •  Responsibilities that are not age appropriate, secondary trauma
  •  Behavioral / mental health counseling, for children and family as a group
  •  Healthcare, especially consistency of services; immunizations, primary care
  •  Undocumented immigrants not qualifying for daycare vouchers
  •  Policies requiring job / employment prior to qualifying for daycare vouchers
  •  Inconsistency across systems and regions for head start / early education
  •  Understanding availability / accessibility of resources
  •  Emotional / psychological well-being
  •  Lack of services for pre-teens & teens

How can cross-agency collaboration on children’s health, services and education be improved? 







Reminder: there is no February Community Meeting—Cookie Day is Wednesday, Feb. 7th!

Join us for the next Community Meeting on March 14th, 11am to 1pm in the first floor conference room at 14 Beacon Street, Boston MA— all are welcome! 

Family Shelter Scattered Site Report

We are excited to release our Scattered Site Brief, a report presenting promising practices and policy recommendations around this Emergency Shelter Assistance (EA) model. We created the brief in partnership with EA providers. It includes family voice and a variety of types of data from providers. Note there is a tool in the Appendix meant to facilitate provider assessment of their practices in relation to recommendations in the report.

We welcome reactions, comments and feedback on the brief, as well as experiences and ideas from families and staff relative to the scattered sites.

Click here to link to the report.

Light and love from the Homes for Families, Consumer Advocacy Team

Families, providers, partners, and beloved members of the community… now more than ever,  you are in our hearts.

In these challenging times we may find it nearly impossible to feel hopeful or inspired.

We may doubt whether or not we belong, we may even wonder if there is still good in this world.

It is in these moments that we must remind each other; it is in these moments that we must be the good that we wish to see… and it is in these moments that we can find inspiration in our ability to be resilient, in our ability to lift others despite our feeling down and out, and in our ability to insist on joy and unity.

At our last monthly Consumer Advocacy Meeting (C.A.T. meeting) our family consumer advocates took time to send light, love and hope out to the larger community.

The messages in these photographs are of letters / messages of hope to :

  • Future Generations
  • Our Undocumented brothers and sisters  in the community
  • The world / global community
  • Anyone who is wondering if there is hope for us


This isn’t the first time we will be faced with struggle and it’s so important to understand that good things have come of past struggles… people have continued to smile, love one another and ultimately move humanity forward.  Let us be the world we want to see, let us lift each other, let us inspire each other.

If you can say or do something kind for someone else … it may be just what they need & it’s certainly what the world needs.

Light and love from the Homes for Families, Consumer Advocacy Team 


Standing With Hope & Denouncing Abuse #DVAM17

The members of our Consumer Advocacy Team consist of advocates and activists against violence.  The members of this group consist of survivors and allies; this group knows how damaging the impact of violence is on children, families, individuals and communities.  We also know that there is power in healing, there is resilience in the spirit, there is something of immense strength and courage to be said for each and every survivor.

For Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2017 – and every day of the year –  our Consumer Advocacy Team takes a stand against violence by denouncing abuse and the normalization of abusive behaviors and rhetoric while standing for safety, hope, and promise of a better tomorrow.

This is practiced by:

  • raising community consciousness about DV and how its impacts are wide spread and longstanding hurting not just the survivor but entire communities
  • creating spaces for safe, candid, often difficult conversations (sometimes sharing personal experiences) about safety, trade-offs , policies & practices that can help / hurt others on as they are faced with violence, abuse , unsafe circumstances or relationships

The Consumer Advocacy Team, worked together on this last poem as a group to share with others. In this poem, they share a message about what it means when we normalize abuse as well as what it means to find hope in each new day.

When you normalize abuse
You become an abuser and life is never the same again
But one soul can make a difference for another
Today is now and yesterday is a memory
Live for now and thrive to survive
Revive your soul daily,

Lean on the strength of the mountains

And the sureness of the sun
Meditate, breath, love, create

And make your new pathway to healing



You Don’t Have to be Fearless to be Brave

As Visioning Day neared, we recognized that we had a huge responsibility  to recognize and name the harsh realities, fears and concerns in this tumultuous climate faced by our families and providers as they work to build from the ground up.  We named these fears concerns and realities:

We are going to name some things here and now. The purpose is not to bring your spirits down but to Acknowledge & recognize the fears & concerns being carried by the all of us, by our friends and families, by the people and communities most vulnerable with the new heightened sense of pro rich /anti poor sentiment and political climate. History has taught us that simply looking away, will not make anything especially anything oppressive simply go away and so we have decided to try to be brave like you and name some of these fears and concerns .

To be quite honest, HFF does not have the answers for some of these serious fears, necessary questions that have surfaced this year, but we hear you and that matters because we carry with us…. your voice , your views, your lens….. at every table we join as we ask questions , provide answers and seek solutions

Here are some of the concerns we heard over the past year:

  • Displacement, rent hikes, gentrification seem to be happening at a faster pace than ever and communities that used to be affordable are changing quickly and becoming unrecognizable. For those who may be familiar with the effects but not the term, gentrification is when your neighborhood changes before your eyes, you can no longer afford to live there and you suddenly become the stranger in a strange place that you used to call home.
  • There are lots of concerns about what Federal cuts to housing coupled with gentrification and the privatization of public housing will mean for those who are already experiencing homelessness or housing instability
  • There are lots of notable concerns around the conservative direction in which Congress seems to leaning. Are the people in Congress, that understand the threats to housing, able to fight hard enough to prevent housing from slipping through the cracks?
  • Families recently describe the current climate under this administration as unmistakably pro-rich
  • We have heard that existing tenants in housing programs and subsidized units, are already seeing changes to the way housing authorities and property management companies , recertify, screen for income and carryout policies describing this new process as even more microscopic and screen out than prior years.
  • There are questions about implementation and honoring of tenants rights.
  • At a time when hate & discrimination are extremely visible and in some cases seemingly permissible, will tenants soon be faced with federal and local laws that seek to protect or fail to address landlords who discriminate against low income families, large families, undocumented families, people of color, LGBTQ communities.
  • How will fed cuts eventually trickle down to impact local and state responses to homelessness?
  • Will the length of stay in shelter shoot up (further) with the cuts to housing that already is too little to meet the demands of the population?
  • The opioid crisis is a threat to housing and family stability – how are these 2 things being addressed as such.
  • Providers and families expressed concerns and anxiety tied to the reliance on short term subsidies (Home base) being the primary tool that we have to respond to such a massive housing stability crisis that requires longer term solutions.
  • Providers have not been shy in expressing their shared concern with families faced with issues tied directly to immigration status.
  • There have been concerns about what families and providers describe as in increase to the number of families being separated by DCF.

Providers are working alongside families in this same uncertain climate, with many of the very same concerns and feelings of being overwhelmed while trying to do what’s best.

None of you are alone; none of you are wrong for feeling this way and all of you are strong for pushing forward anyway.

You don’t have to be fearless to be brave especially in times like these.  In fact our concerns and conversations about our fears will keep us on target, united and relentless as we fight with a sense of urgency for what is right.

As I mentioned this is heavy stuff, not neatly packaged or processed but know this

We hear you and we carry with us your voice, your views, your lens.

We also knew that despite the challenges and barriers, our spirits are resilient and we are pushed forward by the beliefs that we hold onto, hope and possibilities offered to us by tomorrow. We named that as well:

Your good intentions brought you here today; look to someone else and repeat after me, “Thank you for being a part of this special day”

No one here today is alone, look to each other and repeat after me, “I am with you”

If you have ever been shut down, turned away, or silenced – we see you and we hear you, repeat after me, “My voice is valuable and my opinion matters”

Some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I radiate love, peace, and happiness.”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I know that we will make a difference together”

Again, some may want to see us divided, blaming each other and fighting for crumbs, but we choose to see this differently, repeat after me, “I have your back, let’s do this”

– Nilaya Montalvo, Director of Leadership & Community Building

#WayBackWednesday, when we honored leadership at #VisioningDay 2016

On the eve of #VisioningDay 2017, we are looking back to last year’s event where we honored long time Policy Director, Diane Sullivan, with an Inspiring Leadership Award.  As Diane transitioned to new endeavors, she joined us to raise her voice at the Homes for Families podium and accept the award.  Her remarks, as always were passionate and inspirational, and also capture what is HFF , Visioning Day, and the movement to end homelessness.

To get everyone in #VisioningDay spirit, we are sharing her remarks today:

Thank you the Homes for Families Board, the Consumer Advocate Team and of course the incredible HFF staff . I am truly humbled. So, I’ll accept this on your behalf, Homes for Families, because you inspire leadership in so many ways. From the battles to the scars, the sweat and the tears, the jokes and the cheers. Homes for Families, you’ve inspired it all.

More than a decade ago, a sudden job loss, along with the rising costs of housing, utilities, child care, food…I became homeless with my family. Of course that’s the 2 second summary of a much broader and painful story, but after 2.5 months living in a hotel, we were transferred to a local shelter where I was first introduced to HFF.

I sat among other parents experiencing homelessness, shelter providers, community members and elected officials. Parents shared their stories of how they became homeless – and their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. And the work they were putting in to get there. And there, something started to make sense to me – that absolutely none of this makes sense to me. And I was inspired – inspired to pose a question to the elected officials who sat before us.

How do you justify spending so much money warehousing children in hotels and motels rather than investing in homelessness prevention and affordable housing options for them? I wasn’t expecting a response. Because there simply is no answer.There is no justification – because homelessness is not just.

Later that year, I began working as an eviction prevention specialist in Boston. I guess I figured that if I couldn’t save my own children from the hardships of homelessness, perhaps I could help others avoid the trauma. I began attending various HFF events – legislative breakfasts, community meetings, and of course, Visioning Days of years past. I quickly learned that Homes for Families provided a safe space for me, and parents like me, to share our stories, air our grievances while encouraging us to engage in open dialogue, focused on solutions. And I was inspired.

I later joined the Board and eventually the staff of Homes for Families, all of this about 10 years ago. That’s a long time. That’s a long battle. And I’m still inspired. I know we’re not there yet. I know many of you here today woke up in a state regulated shelter bed because despite the hundreds of millions the state spends on housing and homelessness programs every year, we didn’t reach you in time.

I also happen to know that the hundreds of millions dollars being spent each year on housing and homelessness programs represents a mere 1% of our state’s 39 billion dollar operating budget. A budget that is a statement of our very own priorities. One percent. We elect our state representatives and senators and our Governor into office. So, guess what? Ultimately, our state budget is a statement of our priorities.

Here’s my theory folks – want to cut down on healthcare spending? Invest in affordable housing so that we can rid ourselves of the physical and mental trauma caused by homelessness and the avoidable costs associated with their treatment. Or the further cost to humanity when they are not? Want to cut down on education costs for children who lack the housing stability that supports their success in school? Invest in affordable housing. Want to cut down on hunger so that families are not being forced every month to choose between paying their rent and feeding their children? Invest in housing.

Want to invest in jobs and economic development? Invest in housing. Want to invest in communities? Invest in housing. Want to invest in people? Invest in housing. Invest in affordable housing, so that we all, regardless our income brackets, have access to the very foundation that supports healthy families and thriving communities across this Commonwealth. And I know that you have the power to make your elected officials hear you too. You have the power to inspire them beyond that 1%.

Despite how uninspiring this world can seem at times, I hope that your involvement here today inspires you to turn your visions into action. And along your journey, I encourage you – to the best of your ability, to please look to yourself and each other for inspiration. It may be tough to see sometimes, but trust me, your strength and perseverance is inspiring to many into action here today and for days to come.

You do have the power to change this. You are the coalition. You are the movement! You ARE the inspiration. Thank you Homes for Families!

And thank you to Diane! We look forward to honoring our 2017 Inspiring Leaders and remain grateful for all Diane brought and continues to bring to the movement to end homelessness.


Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing… not just fair housing, in theory

On Wed April 12th 2017 Homes for Families in partnership with Boston Tenant Coalition, hosted a meeting between The City of Boston and the Homes for Families’ Consumer Advocacy Team (CAT).

The purpose of the meeting was to provide space for honest dialogue related to the barriers, challenges and issues around fair affordable housing and discrimination being faced by Boston residents, especially those with extremely low, low and moderate incomes. The goal was to inform and guide the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) process for the best possible outcome for all Boston residents.

The Fair Housing Act was signed into law in April of 1968. Read more here.

The HUD rule to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing was published in July of 2015. Click here for more information.

From the City we were joined by Janine Anzalota, Executive Director Office of Fair Housing and Equity, Boston Fair Housing Commission and Robert C. Gehret, Jr., Deputy Director, Policy Development & Research Division, City of Boston Department of Neighborhood Development.

Representing the family voice and many of the Boston communities, we were joined by the Consumer Advocacy Team. CAT is a group of families who have experienced, housing instability, homelessness and displacement. Members of the CAT group dedicate their time to systems change and improvement. They bring a unique lens of lived experience and continuous training on policy and organizing which allows for effective multifaceted family driven advocacy.

The conversation was both rich and engaging and the first of many upcoming opportunities for residents to share challenges, ideas and solutions to some of the complex issues that families and individuals in the Boston housing market are being faced with. Some of the key themes or hot topics of discussion at the meeting:

  • Investments in Boston communities often go hand in hand with gentrification and displacement
  • Landlords who have the option to rent to millennials (without children) don’t want to rent to families
  • Landlords unwillingness to accept vouchers, some are finding creative ways to discriminate against sec 8 voucher holders in order to free up property for “professional 20-30 year olds”
  • The trade off of renting an apartment in a high cost area (at an affordable rate) is usually accepting substandard living conditions
  • Racial segregation having to do with who can afford to live where & landlords ability to affect the culture of neighborhoods (knowingly or unknowingly)

In the coming weeks there will be a survey coming out aimed at Boston residents with the purpose of understanding their experience, needs and challenges as a resident of the City. There will also be an Open meeting with the City on April 25th with the same purpose of collecting valuable input from community members in order to inform the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing process.

Both Janine and Bob displayed a passion to understand and improve the experience of each and every Boston resident and asked some extremely thoughtful questions. We want to thank them for making the time to come out and join us in our efforts to work toward better more accessible fair affordable housing for ALL.

A big thanks to our CAT group for their dedication to advocacy and systems change and improvement.

A big thanks to Kathy Brown from BTC who works endlessly- selflessly to ensure safe affordable housing for Boston resident’s day in and day out!!!

This is just the beginning so please keep an eye out and participate if/when you can in any open meetings/hearing/ surveying having to do with Boston’s AFFH initiative . To learn more about AFFH, check out the following:


A 2015 article announcing the ruling from the Obama administration from the Washington Post

A 2017 article discussing Fair Housing under the Trump Administration from the Atlantic

Learn more and be heard!

-Nilaya, Director of Leadership and Community Building