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Caring for the Most Vulnerable: Housing Families Helps Homeless with Struggles

By Keith Spencer

Since the start of the “great recession”, households in the lower 30% of income distribution have been affected the greatest by job loss. With an average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Boston hovering over $2,000 per month, it’s easy to see why so many families are now homeless.

“We’re focused on improving the lives of these families whose security and stability and safety net have been ripped out from underneath them,” said Patty Kelly, Outreach Coordinator for Housing Families of Malden, a nonprofit organization working to end family homelessness.

In 1986, activists concerned about the homelessness crisis hitting families of three NoBo communities, Everett, Malden, and Medford, formed Tri-City Housing. In 1987, the Broadway Shelter providing refuge and case management services for four families.

Today, Housing Families has expanded its services to include a children’s after school program, eviction prevention services, housing stabilization, and affordable housing for homeless and very low-income families.

“We believe in a holistic approach to assisting families affected by homelessness because there’s so many complex factors and negative effects that are directly correlated to their situation,” added Kelly.

“By providing safe temporary shelter or affordable housing or other support services, we hope to better our families’ lives and have an impact that will last a lifetime.”

With a staff of 48, Housing Families served 253 families in 2010 on a $3.4 million budget. Since first opening their doors. More than 1,500 families have been helped since opening their doors.

According to The National Center on Family Homelessness, children experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often, have high rates of obesity due to nutritional deficiencies, have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems, and are twice as likely to have learning disabilities when compared to non-homeless children.

“We work closely with families to help them surpass the trauma and health issues directly related to their homelessness, especially the children of these families,” said Kelly. “We know there is a connection between emotional and behavioral problems as well as academic issues as a result of children entering homelessness.”

Each and every day, Housing Families serves over 600 homeless, near-homeless, or newly housed children and family members

“On any given day, a family reaches out to us for help in one way or another,” said Kelly. “What we know is that the number of families who are becoming homeless is on the steady rise.”

Between October 2005 and October 2010, the number of families in the Emergency Assistance shelters in Massachusetts increased by 230%. As of June 2011, there were over 3,600 families with children statewide using the Emergency Assistance shelter program. 1,498 of these families were being sheltered in motels.

Unfortunately, these statistics don’t even account for the families living doubled up or in unsafe conditions or even turning the most desperate measure of all, sleeping in their vehicles.

Housing Families has recognized that a lack of affordable housing in the area is one of the root causes of homelessness. In one of their biggest efforts to provide these families with stability, Housing Families purchased a property, which they renovated and turned into affordable housing units.

“By increasing the inventory of permanent affordable housing and providing high-quality supportive services, families can set and achieve realistic goals, and get back on their feet,” Kelly noted. “It’s a much-needed, yet very scarce resource in the area.”

The group also runs an after school program under the leadership of Director Barbara Schwartz, a licensed therapist, where students receive both educational and psychological support to deal with the issues related to their housing situation.

Following some training from Housing Families, volunteer tutors meet with their students one or more hours a week, working on homework and providing academic support. As a childcare volunteer, visitors work with preschool children while parents are in counseling sessions, workshops, or support groups.

“The after-school program is truly wonderful, and its one of the many ways our volunteers get involved in the organization,” Kelly added. “By dedicating at least one day a week, our volunteers make an impact on these children that goes beyond just helping with their education. They’re helping get them back on track, and to believe they have a bright future.”

“It’s what we’re all about at Housing Families. Transforming lives.”

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Upcoming Housing Families Events

April 3, 2012: Housing Families, Inc. Annual Legislative Breakfast at Irish American. Begins at 8:30AM, and the public is invited to attend this free event. For more information, please click here.

April 16, 2012: Housing Families will be watching as ten Boston Marathon runners raise funds for the organization. Each runner has committed to raising $5,000 for the organization.

May through August, 2012: Housing Families Annual Backpack Supply Drive to benefit HFI students at the start of the new school year.

November 10, 2012: The Housing Families 25th Anniversary Gala on the Boston Waterfront will celebrate the wonderful work Seaport-Celebrating 25 Years of Service to families in Greater Boston!

December, 2012: The Housing Families Annual Holiday Gift Drive to benefit children of the Housing Families programs

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Do you want to help Housing Families?

Make a monetary donation to Housing Families by contributing online using your credit/debit card or by mailing a check to Housing Families, 354 Cross Street, Malden, MA 02148. Housing Families returns at least 85% of every donation directly to our programs for families in crisis.

The organization is also always looking for donations for use on a regular basis: personal care products (soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes), kitchenware (cutlery, dishes, pans), diapers, baby wipes, sheets, towels, and laundry detergent.

If you are interested in volunteering in the Children and Family program, please contact Heather Ventresco at hventresco@housingfamilies.org  to find out more about these opportunities.

Graduate and undergraduate internships are also available. If you are interested, contact Barbara Schwartz at barbaras@housingfamilies.org.

For more information about fundraising efforts and monetary donations, please contact Housing Families Director of Development and Communications Craig Maser via email at cmaser@housingfamilies.org.

For more information on other ways you can help, please contact Housing Families Outreach Coordinator Patty Kelly via email at pkelly@housingfamilies.org.

For general inquiries please contact:

Housing Families Inc.
354 Cross Street
Malden, MA 0214

Phone – 781-322-9119
Fax – 781-322-9292
Email – info@housingfamilies.org

Hours of operation are Monday – Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm.

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