Battling COVID-19 while homeless
At the start of 2020, Joshua had no idea a pandemic was about to hit the nation he’d once served – and threaten his own life.
The former Army private knew a mysterious virus had appeared in China. But he had more immediate concerns. He was struggling to find work. He couldn’t afford his own place. And he hadn’t spent enough time on active duty to qualify for certain Veterans benefits.
After turning to Father Bill’s & MainSpring (FBMS), however, he found emergency shelter as well as much-needed hope, thanks to caring donors like you.
Our Veterans case managers were able to tell Joshua that they’d assist his efforts to obtain housing and employment. He worked with them diligently. Then, in March, the coronavirus began shutting just about everything down. But it wouldn’t shut down FBMS. Thanks again to your support, we were prepared.
To limit the potential exposure of everyone to the virus, we’d already enhanced our screening process for guests, added more handwashing stations, and prohibited outside visitors to our sites, resulting in the costly loss of the volunteers we counted on to produce 70% of our shelter meals.
Since then, keeping up with all the additional expenses related to COVID-19 has required FBMS to raise $125,000 in private donations every month.
In partnership with the City of Quincy and local healthcare providers, we began testing all our guests for coronavirus. After testing, we brought guests to a local hotel to quarantine. This allowed us to perform a deep cleaning of Father Bill’s Place while guests like Joshua awaited their results. If results came back negative, they’d return to the shelter.
Joshua was one of our first guests to test positive. He surely feared for his life. Yet even after he entered the state’s isolation program for homeless individuals, he continued to work remotely with FBMS staff on his search for housing and employment. Meanwhile, we set up a satellite shelters to ease crowding in our main shelters. This increased our costs yet again, but allowed guests to safely practice social distancing.
To our great relief, Joshua survived his battle with the virus. Afterward, he was able to come back to stay in one of our satellite shelters. He wouldn’t be there long!
In May, one of our properties for formerly homeless veterans had an opening. Joshua was a perfect fit for the Commander Paul F. Anderson House in Hingham. He’s doing well now, and working with our staff to find a job.
Written by FBMS volunteer and former Boston Globe Sports Editor Joe Sullivan of Weymouth
It’s pretty obvious what a big Red Sox fan Maureen is. The earrings featuring the iconic “hanging Sox’’ dangling from her ears are an easy give-away.
Her love of the Red Sox can be traced to her childhood, “being in a house with a father who had two TVs — one with the Bruins, one with the Sox — and listening to the BC football game on the radio, reading the sports page,’’ said Maureen.
She is such a dedicated fan that she actually thought this year’s team was going to make the playoffs, even when it became obvious in September that wasn’t going to happen.
This disappointing season didn’t damper her disposition. Staff, support workers and volunteers at Father Bill’s always noticed what an upbeat person she was.
That’s despite the difficult circumstances that brought her there.
“I was renting a place. I was on disability, I had two part-time jobs, one taking care of child and one taking care of an elderly man,’’ she said. “The elderly man passed away, the child was getting older and didn’t really want a babysitter. So, I lost both those jobs and couldn’t find anything quick enough to pay the rent, which was over what I got in disability.”
At one point, she couldn’t afford the car anymore and lived outside near Scituate Harbor. “On my beach chair between two pine trees next to the fisherman’s pier,’’ she said.
As the weather turned cold, she needed shelter and that’s when she started staying at Father Bill’s Place in Quincy. It was very difficult for Maureen to adjust to a shelter setting, which included sleeping in a bunk bed and sharing space with dozens of other women.
She adjusted and started to volunteer to work around the shelter. “I took it on myself to start cleaning, work in the kitchen,’’ she said. She aggressively looked for housing and was approved for a state voucher.
It wasn’t easy, but it paid off. A friend from the beach at Scituate connected her to a possible residence in her hometown of Scituate. But she didn’t have the $5,400 needed to cover first and last month’s rent plus the security deposit.
That’s when FBMS stepped in to help cover the costs.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I always wanted a little white house with a white picket fence and to be right on the beach, and here I am.”
At the same time, she’s now working in the kitchen at Father Bill’s. “I like it here,’’ she said. “I have people who I still want to see. It’s OK. I have fun … and I love to cook.
“One Sunday, I was in here cooking. Someone said, ‘Aren’t you pissed that you’re in there all day?’ I said, ‘If I was at my own place, this is exactly what I’d be doing, standing in the kitchen, cooking, watching the Red Sox game. So, yeah, it’s OK with me.’’
There is no TV in her apartment in Scituate yet but there will be when spring arrives. Just in time for Red Sox opening day.
Plenty to celebrate
Not that long ago, Briany didn’t celebrate the holidays. It wasn’t because she and her partner didn’t care. If anything, the young couple longed for the season’s joyful traditions more than ever . . . since it was baby Britney’s first Christmas.
But there were no gifts. No tree. No festive meal.
That’s because low wages, high rent and the expense of child care had combined to make the perfect winter storm . . . and their little family was about to be homeless.
Fortunately, thanks to our compassionate donors’ support of Father Bill’s & MainSpring, the holidays have been happier for this family ever since. But our work to prevent and end homelessness in our communities goes on, because other neighbors are turning to us in desperate need.
After her baby was born, Briany returned to the minimum-wage position she’d had before. But when you don’t make much, the expense of daycare can burn through the very wages it frees you to earn! She was forced to make a painful decision and leave her job. But how do you work when you can’t afford care for your child?
The family was living in a single rented room but their rent went up, and in 2016, they could no longer afford even that. They had to leave and enter shelter.
While in shelter, Briany was thrilled to be hired by a supermarket. Even so, the couple’s combined income still wasn’t enough to come up with first and last month rent and security deposit for a safe apartment – not to mention still needing money for utilities and food. But as they struggled to find a home, Father Bill’s & Mainspring was opening a new apartment building designated for families – Patti’s House in Brockton.
Its development was part of our continuing effort to end homelessness. Today we manage approximately 550 permanent supportive housing units across the region. Being able to call Patti’s House home allowed Briany to focus on bigger things than where to sleep or how to pay the bills. Her case manager helped her connect to resources to apply for schools and find child care for Britney.
Briany is now in her junior year of college, majoring in Psychology while working for a non-profit supervising children. She plans to pursue a Master’s Degree. And her daughter has just started kindergarten!
The family still lives at Patti’s House. Briany enjoys having her own kitchen and a place to put up a Christmas tree. “Britney loves Christmas, she expects presents now,” she adds. “She knows all about Santa, and she has her own room full of toys.”
Biana’s kids are already looking forward to Christmas . . . and so is their mom. You see, support of Father Bill’s & MainSpring by caring friends like you recently helped this family move into a new apartment and avoid homelessness. Biana will now be able to give her children the kind of holiday she believes every kid should have.
We want that for every child, too! That’s why we hope today you will make a gift to Father Bill’s & MainSpring, to help more neighbors like Biana have a place to call home for the holidays.
Over the past year, we helped 339 families like Biana’s avoid shelter. The average age of a child in our programs is 7 – the same as Biana’s little boy when his world turned upside-down. In 2018, Biana was living in an apartment with her son Ki Ki and daughter Taz. After Ki Ki became mysteriously ill, she took him to a doctor. She was horrified to learn he was having a severe allergic reaction to mold and mildew in the walls and ceiling of their home.
She contacted her landlord immediately, but when conditions failed to improve, she packed everyone up to go live with her mom. They were cramped there. And 13-year-old Taz now had to share a small bedroom with her brother. Biana thanked her for putting up with this temporary arrangement so Ki Ki could heal in a healthy environment.
When her mother unexpectedly had to take in other family members, there was just not enough space for them all. By last May, Biana, Ki Ki and Taz had been there a year. For the sake of her children, it was time to move out.
But she still faced a big challenge. Since she had to take care of her kids, she’d only been working part time. Biana didn’t make enough to handle the big security deposit and other upfront costs of renting.
By the time she came to Father Bill’s & MainSpring, her family was on the brink of having nowhere to live.
Thanks to donors like you, we could tell Biana we’d assist with finding an apartment and connecting her with funding for those upfront costs. Our WorkReady Family program, which provides job training for parents, helped her build her resume. By helping pay for Ki Ki to go to summer camp, we also freed her to work more hours.
In August, the family moved into an apartment. The kids are flourishing – especially Taz, who took part in a student leadership program this summer that included a trip to Wyoming.
Their mom has a new full-time career. And she’s looking forward to buying Christmas presents for Ki Ki and Taz.
“They’re kids. They’ll want to get down on the floor to open their stuff and play with it,” she explains. “Now we have space for that. Just to see their faces light up . . . You’ve done wonders for me and my kids.”
Thank you for helping make those wonders possible!
A Fresh Start
Your contribution gives a fresh start to individuals and families who are struggling right now. One neighbor grateful to our donors is Mike, a 56-year-old veteran of the Navy. He had been very close to his mother and step-father but after they passed away, his drinking increased as he coped with the loss.
By the summer of 2017, his growing battle with alcoholism led to the end of the relationship with his girlfriend, and he was living on the street.
Mike still had a job, but he could not find affordable housing. He also understood he’d hit rock bottom. At about the same time he sought shelter at Father Bill’s Place in Quincy, he resolved to stop drinking. He’s been sober ever since.
But while living at the shelter, he fell into a deep depression. Even though he was with other people, he still felt very alone. Then one of his case managers encouraged Mike to get documentation that he had served in the military.
This allowed him to transfer to The Gateway, our wing for veterans at the shelter. Once there, everything began looking up for Mike. Living among other veterans gave him a sense of community, camaraderie, confidence, structure – and hope.
“I felt safe,” he says now.
Mike continued to work at his job while staying at the shelter. He also quit smoking cigarettes, began following a stricter and healthier diet, and joined a gym.
And then in December 2018 – thanks to our donors – we handed him the keys to an efficiency apartment in Montello Welcome Home Again, our brand-new permanent supportive housing development in Brockton.
Twelve of its 23 units are set aside for veterans. Mike’s move into permanent housing is a part of our ongoing efforts to focus on long-term solutions for preventing and ending homelessness in our community – and reducing the need for shelter.
The gift of hope
Two years ago, the approaching holidays were looking bleak to Erin. She wanted to share the full joy of the season with her kids. Yet instead of making plans to bake cookies and decorate a tree with her children, Erin knew she’d be fighting for her life – while also hoping to find them a home.
But by the time those dark weeks arrived, Erin drew strength from a greater joy. Thanks to the support of Father Bill’s & MainSpring, she and her children would not be homeless on Christmas after all.
Erin’s terrifying ordeal began in 2016. A single mother, she was 36, working full time and raising two daughters – ages 3 and 5 – when she was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. And just as Erin faced a grueling, lengthy and expensive series of treatments, the lease on her apartment was coming up. With all the uncertainty in her future, she feared she could not afford to renew it.
When a relative offered to let Erin and the girls live with her, she gladly accepted. A month later, she began chemotherapy to shrink the cancer as much as possible before surgery. But abruptly, her relative’s situation changed. Erin and the kids had to move out – with no place to go!
When a staff member at Erin’s medical center heard this, he helped connect her with Father Bill’s & MainSpring, which operates more than 100 scattered-site shelter units for families.
Thankfully, a unit became available in time for Erin. “It was a lifesaver for me and my girls,” says Erin. “They didn’t even know they were in a shelter. That was huge, because I was going through so many physical changes that were already upsetting to them, such as losing my hair.”
But a shelter, however welcome, is never the same as home. It was very important to Erin – and to us – to see her girls in an apartment in time for Christmas.
Our case managers, and other supportive services we provide because of friends like you, assisted Erin in finding secure stable housing. One week before her double mastectomy, the family moved into an apartment in Rockland, her home town.
Because Erin’s cancer was so aggressive, her treatments would continue throughout 2017 and into 2018, including a second surgery, radiation and additional debilitating rounds of chemotherapy.
“I never once asked, ‘Why me?’” she says. “I truly believe I was given this for a reason. It has helped me become a better person and a better mother.”
This May, we rejoiced with Erin when she was able to return to work. And she will be forever grateful that your support of Father Bill’s & MainSpring means her girls, now 5 and 7, are able to bake cookies and decorate a tree in a place of their own.
A Brighter Future
Kenitra and her newborn baby were on the verge of becoming homeless in 2016.
But Kenitra – with the help of Father Bill’s & MainSpring (FBMS) – drew up a plan to find an apartment, secure a job, and access the resources needed to care for her daughter, without ever having to step foot inside a shelter.
“If you follow that plan, there’s no way you’re not going to get back on track,” Kenitra said. “Father Bill’s & MainSpring is like another family to me.”
At FBMS, we believe our communities are only as strong as the support and stability that we provide to our most vulnerable residents, most especially our families who are experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.
As part of FBMS’ strategic plan, we began implementing a new family track that aligned our resources to create a homelessness prevention and diversion team. The model was designed to create better outcomes for families, meaning fewer entries into emergency shelter, shorter shelter stays, more exits to housing and employment, and improved retention of housing.
The plan is working. During fiscal year 2017, our prevention and diversion programs helped 341 families avoid emergency shelter. Over the past two years, we’ve helped 161 families exit shelter and move into permanent housing.
Services to prevent homelessness don’t just help neighbors in need. Preventing families like Kenitra’s from ending up in emergency shelter also means significant cost savings to the public! For example, last year the average expense of providing emergency shelter for a family was $45,981 – compared to $9,526 to help that same family find and move into a new home with a plan for success.
After receiving one-time rental assistance in 2016, Kenitra and her daughter moved into their own apartment in Brockton. Today, Kenitra has a job and the stability she needs to start building a future for her daughter.
A stabilization worker and employment specialist from FBMS are working with Kenitra to help her maintain a budget and remain housed.
“They don’t just close your case,” she said of FBMS. “They stay with you.”
Back on the Right Path
William, who always wanted to be an airplane pilot, enlisted in the Air Force during the war in Vietnam. After two deployments, he came home to Massachusetts with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But that did not keep him from a successful career as a business owner of four supermarkets, or later returning to the skies he loved as a corporate pilot.
William’s life flew on in a steady course, as he raised two children in a comfortable home. Then he ruptured an Achilles tendon. After a doctor prescribed a powerful drug to deal with pain, William – like far too many patients – became addicted to the opioid that was supposed to bring relief. It plunged him into a downward spiral.
“I call it the Great Eraser,” William says now, noting his substance abuse strained relationships and cost him jobs. After several attempts at treatment, he successfully completed rehab in 2013, and moved into an apartment to rebuild his life.
But by 2016, his retirement income from Social Security no longer covered the rent for his modest apartment. William became homeless. For several dark weeks, the Air Force veteran lived in a friend’s truck.
Thankfully, someone referred him to Father Bill’s & MainSpring. With donor support, we moved William into one of our transitional housing units for veterans. A case manager from Father Bill’s & MainSpring began working to connect him to the veterans benefits to which he was entitled.
In February 2017, a federal housing voucher for veterans got William into a new apartment in Weymouth. We provided financial assistance to help him settle in, including funds for a new mattress and bed frame.
Today, William is doing well, and enjoying visits from his kids and five-month-old grandson. “I can’t say enough about Father Bill’s,” he says. “You saved my life.”
When we helped him in 2016, William was one of 500 veterans served by our programs. Because of our ongoing efforts, only 347 veterans needed our help last year. But other veterans, individuals and families still need us in 2018 as they struggle with the high cost of housing.
Your support will help provide emergency assistance for neighbors at risk of losing their homes, as well as shelter, transitional housing and other programs that give those experiencing homelessness a way to rebuild their lives.
Building a Legacy
Thanks to supporters like you, Lenira Andrade is achieving her dreams and providing a better life for her son. She has worked incredibly hard to overcome homelessness, pursue a higher education, and build a rewarding career.
More than 7 years ago, Lenira became homeless after her son, Julius, was born 12-weeks prematurely.
“I wasn’t prepared for anything. I found myself in a situation bringing my baby home to nowhere, to homelessness,” she remembered.
Lenira and her son were placed in one of Father Bill’s & MainSpring’s family shelters and was later referred to the agency’s WorkReady Family program. She was underemployed and a part-time student at the time of her enrollment in WorkReady. While others may have given up on their education, Lenira was determined to accomplish her goal of starting a career in architecture.
The WorkReady program, supported by Secure Jobs funding, identified this as her long-term goal and helped her focus more immediately on finding full-time employment.
“It set me up for success further down the line,” Lenira said of WorkReady.
Having exited shelter with a short-term subsidy, Lenira understood that she needed to make full-time work a priority so that she could remain housed after the subsidy expired. She found employment at Bed Bath & Beyond.
Lenira was able to remain in school full-time — and keep her dreams alive — as a result of being accepted into the One Family Scholars program. She graduated from Massasoit Community College in 2014, and after taking a year to regroup and spend time with Julius, she began the Project Management undergraduate program at Wentworth Institute of Technology with a minor in Estimating. She is due to graduate in December 2018.
Lenira has achieved her long-term goal. She’s currently employed as a Junior Estimator at NEI General Contracting in Randolph. Lenira now has a new long-term goal of purchasing a home.
She recently said: “When I look back on how far I’ve come I get teary-eyed because after so much sacrifice, dedication, and discipline, I accomplished my goals.”
When Colin, a passionate young artist, sat down to draw during the last six months of 2016, a few questions would swirl through his head:
What type of pencil should I use? What should I name my character? And which video game or film will be my inspiration?
Because of your generous support, there was one question Colin didn’t have to ask himself: Will I have a place to sleep tonight?
Colin, 12, and his father, Sean, were homeless for more than six months, but because of Father Bill’s & MainSpring they were able to live in a safe, supportive setting while Colin enrolled in a local school and could focus on his artwork instead of worrying about whether he’d have a bed to sleep in.
“I love drawing because when I draw, I go into my own little zone. I get so calm,” Colin said. ”I can draw whatever I want and make my own little world. Drawing is awesome for me.”
Sean and Colin moved into their own apartment this past February after spending six months at the Conway House in Middleboro, one of two congregate shelters owned by FBMS for families experiencing homelessness.
Though many people equate homelessness as a problem for single individuals, families with young children are often the majority of people experiencing homeless.
Sean said he and his son became homeless last year after unsafe circumstances forced them to leave their home. Sean and Colin moved in with family in Weymouth, but they couldn’t stay more than a few months. So, on June 15 of last year, they moved into FBMS’ Conway House after being referred by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Emergency shelter gives families a place to stay temporarily while connecting them with the supportive services they need to ultimately become more self-sufficient.
“I was able to deal with other underlying issues that had been a thorn in my side for years, and I was able to get out from underneath those things,” Sean said about his stay at the Conway House.
At FBMS’ congregate shelters for families, a dedicated team of FBMS employees provide a range of services to parents, including workforce training, searches for permanent housing and one-on-one case management which includes connecting families with financial assistance they qualify for and, if needed, outside treatment for mental and behavioral health issues. The staff also help the kids staying in the shelters enroll in local schools and they coordinate transportation for parents to get to work, doctor’s appointments or other important commitments. Once a family moves out of the shelter and into an apartment, FBMS provides stabilization services for up to a year to help make sure the families don’t end up back at a shelter.
Colin is a 6th grader, where he is a member of his school’s art club. Sean said his son has been creative most of his life. When he was a little, Colin would transform into a knight by making a shield out of a pizza box, a helmet out of a strainer and a sword out of a flag pole. At the Conway House, Sean said Colin spent hours upon hours either drawing or building new creations with LEGOS. Colin said he mostly likes to draw science-fiction and fantasy characters, like robots, cyborgs and dragons, but he recently started experimenting with anime-style pieces. Each of his characters has a backstory and a name, like “Broken,” “Run” and “Gear,” and some of their names are written out in Japanese or Gaelic.
During a meeting with a visitor at the Conway House earlier this year, Colin clutched onto his sketchbook as if it were a block of gold, excitedly explaining the story behind each one of his favorite pieces.
“I sometimes draw to how I’m feeling,” he said.
Proudly watching his son show off his drawings, Sean also shared some accomplishments of his own. While at the Conway House, he got a job, he was able to resolve some outstanding financial liabilities, and he found an apartment for him and Colin. And FBMS helped connect Sean with state HomeBASE funding, which covers the major upfront costs that often keep people from getting housed, like first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit.
“Father Bill’s has really helped me straighten my life out and make things better for Colin and I,” Sean said.
In fiscal year 2016, FBMS served 1,204 different families through a range of services, including providing emergency shelter, diverting/preventing homelessness with one-time grants or advocacy in Housing Court, securing jobs for parents, and searching for permanent housing.