Finding the Silver Lining During the COVID-19 Crisis

With the help from a dedicated Family Advocate, parents at Horizons are supported in doing what’s best for their families and working to break the cycle of homelessness for their children. So much progress has been made, but what happens to those living in homeless shelters or on the poverty line when the world as we know it halts in response to public safety concerns like it has with the COVID-19 crisis?

Finding the Silver Lining During the COVID-19 Crisis-Horizons For Homeless Children

Rosa, a single mother of twin boys, has saved everything she’s earned for the past two years to get her children out of a shelter and into a two-bedroom apartment. Working an hourly wage at a fast food chain, her hours have been cut drastically in response to the outbreak and she now fears her ability to make monthly rent.

“I don’t want to lose everything I’ve worked so hard for,” Rosa told her Family Advocate in distress.

Every time a customer comes in to pick up food, she shudders, afraid one of them could unknowingly pass her the virus and put her family at risk.

She’s not the only parent concerned for her family’s future. Devin, father to 1-year-old Malcolm, was on track to complete a job training program. It was abruptly cancelled in early March, with only two weeks left of training.

“I was all set to have an internship that could lead to a job,” Devin explained. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen anymore.”

Beyond job security, a sense of personal health and well-being is also at risk for homeless families. Ellanie, and her four-year-old daughter Mckayla, have remained holed up in their shared room at a 10-family shelter. Mckayla has severe asthma and was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, putting her in the category of immunocompromised.

Ellanie is frozen with fear, afraid to leave the confinement to risk exposing her daughter to the highly contagious virus.

Across town Felicia, mother to three children ages 6, 4 and 1, has been working twenty-five hours at a local pizza shop during the pandemic. Felicia is afraid to take public transit to work due to the risk of exposure to coronavirus, and has been paying for Ubers to minimize contact out of an abundance of caution to protect herself and her children. Without school in session, she’s had to pay for childcare with half of her weekly paycheck.

“What’ll happen if the pizza shop closes?” Felicia asked, fretful. “What’ll happen to my babies?”

These are just a few of the sobering realities the 140 families Horizons for Homeless Children serves in its Early Education Centers are facing. During this crisis, they’ve lost employment and opportunities, consistent services they rely on, time and resources to better their situation, and a sense of personal safety for themselves and their children’s wellbeing.

What they haven’t lost is Horizons’ dedication to them, and the hope for a better future that comes with it.

In this unprecedented time, Horizons for Homeless Children has stepped into overdrive to come up with creative solutions to support families when they need us the most. Before the Early Education Centers closed, parents were sent home with bags of groceries and a book for their child explaining why school was closing for a little while to help ease the unsettling transition. Horizons teachers have been hard at work, setting up virtual classrooms and keeping to consistent programming like morning greetings and story time that children who have experienced trauma rely on.

Family Advocates were quick to mobilize in a coordinated fashion, evaluating and sharing emergency financial assistance programs and resources families could apply for during the pandemic. Diaper pick-ups and meal services were also curated regionally, and they’ve connected one-on-one with every parent to learn how the coronavirus outbreak has affected each family to provide personal support.

Ayesha Rodriguez, Director of Family Partnerships at Horizons, stated in reference to the work of the Family Advocates, “As a team, we realized we could help families look for the silver lining,” she paused thoughtful, before concluding “or we could become it.”

Serving as an emotional confidant, Family Advocates stay in close contact with families by phone and email to talk through hardships of the crisis and, when needed, facilitate delivery of mental health services, a vital need for the homeless community at large.

Visa gift cards have also been distributed to each family directly through Horizons for Homeless Children, providing the means to help off-set costs of food, diapers, wipes and essential supplies during the pandemic.

“Please thank everyone at Horizons for the gift card,” Ellanie quietly expressed, her voice cracking over her shelter’s community phone line, “I’m going to use it to order groceries for Mckayla and me.”

Horizons’ Family Advocates continue to work as a lifeline for families experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis. “The personal coaching and connections we’ve fostered with the parents has built trust with us and our programs,” Ayesha shared with conviction. “We want to make sure that we work to preserve the progress families have made so that when this crisis is behind us, they are in a position to quickly get back on track in pursuing their long term goals and ultimately break the cycle of homelessness for their families.”

This piece was written by Andrea Drag, a regular contributor to Horizons’ Blog.