Before COVID-19 changed everything, service delivery used to be a family affair. Parents and case managers met – often for an hour or more – to talk about the family’s struggles, create budgets, and implement family action plans, while the children colored or played on the floor nearby.
At Adopt-A-Family, our work has always been about those face-to-face touchpoints, where staff can look clients square in the eye and say, “I believe in you and in your ability to get through this and come out stronger. I’m here to help.”
Since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Florida, we shifted almost overnight to virtual and contactless service delivery. For every case manager in every program, that means relying on phone calls and teleconferencing platforms to stay in touch – a tough proposition in a field predicated on human interaction.
And at the same time, there are more people than ever who need our help.
The Housing Stabilization Program (HSP), which provides rent and utility assistance to families at risk of homelessness, has seen a dramatic spike in calls from people experiencing job and income loss. To meet the demand, HSP hired three additional staff members and implemented an expedited virtual intake process. From March-June 2020, the Housing Stabilization Program provided emergency rent and utility assistance to 110 families, double the caseload for the same period in 2019.
The Homeless Resource Center (HRC) team responds every day to families in crisis. In May alone, 17 families were housed with Rapid Re-Housing assistance, 16 families were placed in emergency shelter, and three were moved to permanent supportive housing. “These clients still need us. They need showers. They need clothes. We can’t stop because of the coronavirus,” said Abbey Hartman, Shelter Services Coordinator at Adopt-A-Family’s 19-unit family homeless shelter.
Fieldwork is starkly different. HRC case managers used to make 20 home visits per week, sitting at each family’s table and exploring what was going well and what wasn’t. Now, brief exchanges take place at the front door. Smiling through their masks, case managers drop off groceries, toiletries, diapers, cleaning products – anything to help the family get by.
As for the agency’s six residential programs, all remain at capacity and no one will ever be evicted because they lost their job to coronavirus and can’t pay the rent. The agency continues to provide housing and emergency shelter to over 120 families on any given night, with new safety protocols in place.
Family Advocate Vivenne Owen, who normally enjoys face-to-face interactions with her Project SAFE clients, still comes to the office at least once a week. When clients see her car in the parking lot, they pop over and visit – wearing masks, of course. Even when she’s working at home, she is available and present for her clients by phone or video. Like every Adopt-A-Family team member, she’s working hard every day to remind her clients one reassuring thing in a frightening time: “We’re still there.”
Christine knew chaos and uncertainty well. Growing up surrounded by trauma, it was common to be uprooted suddenly, moving from one place to another, never knowing how long they would stay before leaving once again. With no real guidance or support system, she dropped out of school in 6th grade. She continued her transient lifestyle, lacking self-confidence and feeling like her life was going nowhere.
Until the day she found out she was pregnant at 19.
With no home and a baby on the way, Christine was scared and unsure of what she could do.
However, with the knowledge of soon being responsible for a newborn, she was determined to break free of what her life had been like and be able to provide a more meaningful future for her and her soon to be son.
“When I got pregnant while homeless, I decided that I wouldn’t let my upbringing determine my life, moving forward. So, I put everything I had into creating a better future for my son and me.”
Christine was able to connect with Adopt-A-Family (AAF) and soon after her son was born, she moved into the agency’s Permanent Supportive Housing Program, Project SAFE, which provides a safe, consistent, and nurturing environment for families experiencing homelessness.
An AAF Family Advocate helped to ensure Christine stayed on task with her finances, offering well-rounded support as she aimed to gain independence and stability. She attended the many different classes offered by AAF and was able to earn her GED as a result of one of those courses. During her time at Project SAFE, Christine was a waitress at a local restaurant and took online classes, working towards earning her Associate’s degree, all while being a new, full-time mom.
After spending five years in the program, Christine and her son moved to Washington State to be closer to family. It was there that Christine discovered her passion for baking. She began honing her skills, and upon moving back to Florida a few years later, enrolled in the Lincoln Culinary Institute school to start pursuing her career in baking.
Not long after graduating from Lincoln, she found out she was pregnant with her second child. It was extremely high-risk, and Christine was put on bedrest for most of her pregnancy. When her son was born, there were health complications which
required him to remain in the hospital for three months. Even when he was able to come home, he still needed to see specialists frequently, which took a toll on Christine.
“It took a while for me to pick myself up and heal. However, I became stronger and healthier every day, in part thanks to skills I learned during my time at Adopt-A-Family, and decided to start my own, home-based business so that I could do what I’m passionate about but also still take care of my kids.”
Christine is now fully pursuing her own baking business, Christinessweetcheeks, specializing in molding and big celebration cakes. She can stay home and raise her two sons and assist with her youngest’s remaining health complications while earning a living by utilizing her skills and passions.
From a traumatic childhood and homelessness to a thriving independent business owner and loving, stay-at-home mom, Christine beat every odd that was stacked against her. She didn’t let the circumstances she was born into determine the outcome of her story. She utilized the resources and support offered to her, to ensure that she found self-reliance and stability for her family.
“Adopt-A-Family is such a great resource to have. For a long time, I didn’t think I was worth the help that people offered and that I could do it all by myself. However, I learned that if someone is offering you a helping hand, like Adopt-A-Family did for me, you should take it. If you do that, keep focused on the task at hand, and keep going. Eventually, you will get to the other side and see all the challenges you stepped over to get where you are now.”
Show your support, this #GivingTuesday and donate to Adopt-A-Family so we can continue serving people just like Christine as they work towards hope and stability.
The Strength of a Mother
Kyla and her one-year old daughter Savannah, came to Adopt-A-Family scared and fearful of the world around them, holding on to each other tightly because they were afraid of the unknown. Kyla had not had it easy, struggling for a long time with PTSD and extreme anxiety. She wanted nothing more than to provide a good and happy life for her daughter but needed a confidence boost and helping hand to do so. Kyla and her daughter moved into SAFE in October 2012 and slowly began to open up and work towards gaining the courage and boldness to achieve her goals.
After spending time working and building her self-esteem with her Family Advocate at AAF, Kyla put her daughter in daycare so that she could explore employment and school opportunities. With the help from AAF staff, Kyla’s confidence grew stronger and stronger while Savannah learned to no longer fear the world, but to explore it and learn everything she could. In 2014, while also working part-time and caring for her daughter, Kyla started to attend PBSC to go for her Associates in Human Services and was so successful there that she even made the Dean’s List two years in a row.
“Kyla’s confidence grew stronger and stronger Savannah learned to no longer fear the world, but to explore it and learn everything she could.”
With her success earning her Associates Degree, Kyla is currently working towards earning her Bachelor’s degree. By mid-2016 Kyla was married and expecting her second daughter Arabella and with help of her spouse and his family they were able to move into their own home in OK in September 2017 while being self-sufficient and providing a fulfilling and safe life for their daughters.
If you want to help other mothers like Kyla, you can donate below. Let’s make it a special Mothers Day to all the moms in our community!
Determination to Grow, the Strength to Learn
Nikki is a determined, passionate, single mother of two young children who hasn’t yet met an obstacle that she couldn’t overcome through a strong will and assistance from Adopt-A-Family services. With a long history of domestic violence and homelessness, Nikki is familiar with the challenges that life can throw at you. When she first came to AAF, her younger sister had an open DCF case and she was working to get her stabilized and out of the system. Nikki moved into Project SAFE with her younger sister and two young children and even on that first day her tenacious personality was clear when she made the statement, “I will only need this program for two years and I will be back on my feet.”
A natural-born hard worker, Nikki immediately dedicated herself to making a better life for her children and sister every single day she lived in Project SAFE. Taking on the responsibility of guardianship of her younger sister, she did everything in her power to keep her stably housed until her sister turned 18, and continues to support her to this day even as she has moved out on her own.
“I will only need this program for two years and I will be back on my feet.”
While in Project SAFE, Nikki worked hard to increase her earning potential through new employment opportunities. Having recently increased her income with a new job, she is saving money to pursue her dream of a degree in Crime Scene Investigation – Forensics. With the rise in income, Nikki felt that she was also ready to live independently again. On February 15, 2018, almost two years to the day of her entering Project SAFE, she moved into a three-bedroom rental that fits within her budget. Within a two-year timeframe she set for herself, Nikki met her goals of regaining independence and providing a safe and stable life for her and her children.