Fighting homelessness in Massachusetts is like working on a giant picture puzzle. It’s complex, it has lots of different pieces, and it to get it done you need a lot of people working on it from a lot of different angles. And, of course, it’s easier to solve if you know what the final picture should look like.
After all, the people who understand a problem best are the people who live it every single day.
That’s why Homes for Families (HFF) takes a unique approach. They actively partner with families experiencing homelessness or housing instability, the people who know what their communities need better than anyone else.
The experience of families informs their work with shelter providers, elected officials, and communities in efforts to end homelessness. They open doors for families to become advocates and provide a valuable perspective that helps push for changes in policy and in the programs that serve families.
United Way understands the power of amplifying the voices of families who’ve experienced homelessness. That’s just one reason why we partner with Homes for Families: to support their mission of empowering families across Massachusetts and end homelessness.
ENDING HOMELESSNESS THROUGH COLLABORATION
Since Homes for Families opened its doors in 1994 and in their first year of operation, the program was led entirely by parents who had experienced homelessness. Even after staff who hadn’t been homeless joined the organization, the emphasis on the partnership never wavered.
For Libby Hayes, Homes for Families’ Executive Director, this level of connection is at the core of their work. “Parents overcoming homelessness are our partners and leaders in creating change. Our work helps reinforce to parents that they have power, and that their voice has real value. We work to ensure people have opportunities to show that power, and that policy takes into account the people it most affects.”
This spirit of collaboration is most visible each year at Visioning Day, a statewide convening of families who currently live in shelter as well as families who have moved into stable housing, along with individuals and organizations who serve them.
Together, they discuss the key issues facing people with housing instability — the availability of housing subsidies, child care, or shelter access, for example. From this feedback, Homes for Families crafts their guiding principles for the next year, and ultimately, determines what campaigns they sign onto and what topics become policy priorities.
LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD
To continue growing their network of families, HFF relies on organizations who serve families to engage them in providing input. When they reach new families, HFF provides education about what advocacy is, what it means to push for changes in public policy, and how the state budget process works, among other topics.
Graduates join the Consumer Advocacy team (CAT), which takes the lead on event work, planning, speaking, and evaluating outcomes. It also serves as a pipeline to the HFF Board of Directors — which is 50% parents — boards of other organizations, and to other leadership roles in the community and movement to end homelessness.
A FEW WORDS IS ALL IT TAKES
Listening to families can produce profound impact. At Visioning Day two years ago, one family mentioned a unique challenge. They were asked to save money toward their first and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit. They wanted and needed to save this money, but they also faced an overall asset limit of $2,500 to remain in shelter. All those savings would no doubt put a family over the income limit, and they weren’t sure what to do.
The message resonated with the commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance, who was at Visioning Day to speak with families about their challenges. Soon after, the cap on savings was increased to $5,000, allowing this family and many others to save for the future.
Change happens when it’s powered by real experiences. United Way is proud to partner with Homes For Families to empower people to change more than just their own lives. They might just be able to change everything.