Promoting Resilience and Self Care During The COVID-19 Crisis

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

Promoting Self Care and Resilience1

We’ve created a shareable pamphlet with these self-care and resiliency tips.

Find it here: HFF Promoting Self Care and Resiliency Tips.


Creating Safe, Welcoming, and Healing Spaces for Children

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.

Image result for welcoming play space

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.

Image result for children and colors image

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!

Liz and Team HFF

In May We Celebrate Mother Figures and Recognize Mental Health

At our May Community Meeting, Homes for Families honored mother figures and recognized the layered health challenges faced by the many mother-led families within the EA system. Mental and emotional health and well being is an important aspect of health for any mother whether in shelter or not. Being a mom, and a new mom especially, can be utterly exhausting and is a lot of work. This, coupled with even the most supportive of shelter settings, is going to have its added challenges.

It’s not surprising that the majority of parents within EA say that their stress level increased since entering EA shelter (see image below). For a link to the full report that this data point came from click here.

Our network of programs, families and allies all want families and moms to succeed. We want to create the supports mothers need to be emotionally and physically well. EA shelters provide an incredibly vital service and staff and families work hard every day to foster stability and opportunity. However, practices and policies can get in the way. Participants at community meeting named a number of punitive and unhelpful practices that hinder rather than facilitate moms’ success. Lack of flexibility around: chores where a pregnant woman can be required to mop floors in the late evening; not being able to leave your children unattended; and lack of access to transportation to get to and from appointments, for the parent, are just some examples.

There is opportunity to assess how policies and practices can be implemented through a more trauma informed and whole-family lens and for seeing each child’s success as inextricably tied to their primary caretaker’s ability to get their emotional, mental and physical needs met. Given that families experiencing homelessness are disproportionately people of color, we must continue to acknowledge and dismantle structures that systematically disadvantage people of color, women, and families with low incomes. As one Community Meeting participant said: “If middle class white people were subjected to this [unreasonable policies], they would have changed a long time ago.”

If you want to take action right now towards improving the policies that impact families in shelter, check out our most recent state budget-related blog post!

At Community Meeting, we began with notes to our mother-figures and so we will end here with some of those beautiful messages:

Liz Peck

Team HFF

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

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month #DVAM16

While the month of October is extremely important and symbolic because it offers us an opportunity to acknowledge the presence and impact of domestic violence in our society, survivors and loved ones are living with , overcoming and working to end domestic violence year round.

In the spirit of strength and courage, our Consumer Advocacy Team wishes to share these messages of hope and inspiration with all of you who will be doing this powerful important healing, work and education around domestic violence and it’s impacts on people, families and communities as a whole.

“Something will grow from all you are going through …and it will be you!”

“It’s not what you went through but how you made it out.“

“You are loved and you can make it.”

“There is hope.”    

We deserve to be safe.



– Nilaya Motnalvo/Consumer Advocacy Team

The SWM Budget and Key Programs Relative to Family Homelesness

The Senate Ways and Means Budget was released on Tuesday afternoon.  The budget proposal, entitled INVESTING FOR A RESILIENT COMMONWEALTHbegins with a message from Chairwoman Karen Spilka about resiliency:

Resilience is most often defined as the ability to achieve a good outcome in the face of adversity. Resilience can—and must—be built on a community-by-community and statewide basis, but there is no more important place to plant the seed of resilience than within our children. Strong, resilient children will grow up to be active contributors to a productive and thriving Commonwealth.

The Executive Summary gives an overview of the allocations by category with some of the reasoning of the committee:

 Stable, safe housing is critical for family wellbeing and the physical, emotional and educational success of children. In line with the mission of the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget invests $441M in low income and homelessness programs to help connect individuals, families and vulnerable populations with housing and supportive services, key foundations for resilience at all ages.

And notes regarding specific investments or initiatives:

As recommended by the Special Senate Committee on Housing, this budget requires the Executive Offices of Housing and Economic Development, Health and Human Services, Labor and Workforce Development and Education to enter into a memorandum of understanding to identify cross-agency solutions to the challenges faced by low income Massachusetts residents at risk of homelessness.

image screenshot from Click to enlarge


Program funding is listed, by line item, in the allocation section. Below are the key programs impacting families experiencing homelessness, listed with the proposed funding level, language, and key amendments. We will compile a full list of relative amendments when they are filed.

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (7004-9024)

SWM Proposed Funding Amount: $100,083,891

SWM Proposed Language: Adds reporting language and elimination of some technical changes related to program administration

Amendment: Housing Chair Linda Dorcena Forry’s amendment #779 proposed to increase funding to $120 million and make important adjustments to the program, including: establishing the Fair Market Rent (FMR) Cap at the current FMR; establishing a data management system; and mandating rapid voucher distribution.  Click here for our MRVP Action Alert.  Let your Senator know it is #779!

Emergency Assistance (7004-0101)

SWM Proposed Funding: $155,058,948

SWM Proposed Language: Includes language that families at imminent risk of homelessness would be eligible for shelter; increases advance notice language from 60 to 90 days; reduces reporting requirements

Amendment: Senator Jason Lewis’s Amendment #669 will increase reporting requirements to include the reasons why families are determined not eligible for EA and basic demographic information


HomeBASE (7004-0108)

SWM Proposed Funding: $31,943,664

SWM Proposed Language: Includes increased access to families in domestic violence and substance abuse family sober living programs

Amendment: Senator Sonia Chang Diaz’s amendment #426 will increase funding to $39,200,000; remove the funding cap for the expansion to domestic violence and substance abuse program residents and clarify eligibility for participants in those programs; and add language for voucher renewal

Other Useful Information

For more information about the Senate Ways and Means Budget Relative to Housing, please click the links for CHAPA’s full analysis and amendment list.

For more information on selected programs related to benefits, child welfare, housing and homelessness from Mass Law Reform Institute, click here

For a full analysis from Mass Budget and Policy Center, click here

Thank you to our partners in the advocacy community for this great work!

For tips of navigating the list of amendments, refer back to our blog post on the House Amendments; the Senate Amendments are a bit easier to navigate as they are listed by category.

And thank you, yes YOU, for your advocacy on these key issues!


PS: Bonus thanks to any retweets of our #SenBudget tweets on Twitter! 


See Me….the whole, valuable, powerful me.

Today’s blog post, brought to you by Nilaya, our Director of Leadership and Community Building:

There’s an element to becoming homeless that can often make us feel invisible

The shame and rejection from being put out and denied access to systems in our attempts to keep our children safe can make us feel desperate and at the mercy of others – systems, friends, relatives or strangers.

During the process of asking for and obtaining services, parents are forced to repeat that they are homeless time and time again. Inevitably it becomes in large part how they identify.

Often times when I ask parents who they are, they introduce themselves by saying “I’m [name] and I live in a shelter.”  While there should be no shame for families in disclosing current or past homelessness, it is also extremely important to introduce the complete picture of who they are, and particularly the things that make families so powerful.

During the 5th session of the Public Policy Series – participants did an exercise entitled, “See Me.”

The purpose was for parents to create a visual of their titles / roles / attributes /goals / values / passions / strengths and then present it to the group as a form of re-introducing themselves … making their whole, valuable, powerful selves visible.

In that vein, we invite you to see the strong, beautiful, dynamic, caring, advocates that have been meeting weekly over the past couple of months to raise our collective voice for housing, economic and social justice!





Some thoughts for the final days of Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic violence is a threat to us all. Domestic violence hurts communities, children and families. Only when we see it as our collective responsibility, to address it as everyone’s issue; only when we make sure that we have supports in place to respond to the needs of survivors can we move forward significantly in serving survivors and their families.

While domestic violence may not be the immediate reason families may be presenting when they apply shelter, so many of the families that I encounter throughout the year express that they or their children have been impacted by domestic violence.

All too many times it has been confided in me that perhaps there would have been less irreversible damage had there be a place for the survivor and their children to go. Survivors expressed that having no place to flee to or uprooting their children made the decision to flee more complex, scarier.

It saddens me to know that in some cases housing instability could be major factor in why families that are in an unsafe situation are forced to stay. It would be remiss of us to ignore that housing is an important piece to the puzzle.

As unfathomable as this may seem too many of us, this happens daily, repeatedly and unnecessarily.

When Domestic Violence hurts a person or family, domestic violence rocks that community.

When homelessness and housing Instability threatens a family, homelessness rocks that community.

If this is true than we can only imagine what happens to a family and communities that are plagued by domestic violence and housing instability coupled together.

While these traumatic experiences are unique, the outcome can be anticipated… for families that survive, they will have to start anew often vulnerable and in many cases with little to no resources and or connection to peers, friends, family or support.

If there is one thing that survivors teach us all it is that hope and creative solutions couple with networks of collective support can put an end to injustice.  Can we come together … DV, EA, advocates, providers, families and be that network of support to come together with creative solutions and unified voice and put an end to injustice?

If there is something we can all learn from survivors it is to look at the strength and opportunities that surface in the most difficult times.

Can we as a community that cares use our strength and see the opportunity to demand supports, safety and housing so that survivors and their families can rebuild?

I invite you to read and share two blog posts:

And I invite all of you to think about what your role might be, how you can connect with places that are doing the work and how we can partner in order to push forward the work and message of the domestic violence community as well as the EA community in order to make sure that safety and housing are never on the table as negotiable when we talk about our families.


Director of Leadership and Community Building