Voices of Family Promise

  • T.J. Putman

As Family Promise looks at our role in advocacy around the COVID-19 pandemic, we consistently see the intersection between homelessness, education and child care. The fact is, families have particularly struggled to make ends meet while caring for their families. Over and over I see that

. (We changed names for privacy.)

Take Jennifer, after her home situation became dangerous, she needed to quickly leave with her son Aiden. Prior to the pandemic, this would have been hard enough, but the childcare center in Salem where Jennifer used to place Aiden while she worked is no longer able to care for him. As a result, she has had to balance her conflicting housing, work, and childcare priorities alone. It couldn’t be done. Sadly, Jennifer lost her job.

Jennifer’s story is not unique. Even before 2020, Oregon had a reputation for having poor access to child care where long wait-lists and high demand contributed to expensive services and, sometimes, a challenging lack of availability. Now, childcare centers must limit how many children they manage at once while staff must acquire new expertise on the fly. The costs of gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer eat into the bottom line of these businesses, but most can’t afford to hire additional workers while making it affordable for families.

This is why childcare is becoming more expensive and difficult to find than ever before. Even families who have been on waiting lists for months are being turned away and priced out. For a two-parent, two-income, housed family, this alone can present an insurmountable obstacle to financial stability.

Affordable childcare is one reason that parents, especially mothers, are currently dropping out of the workplace to take care of their children. A parent’s departure from the workforce is not just a temporary hit to a family’s income. Even when it is possible to return to a competitive career after an absence, there is no way to make up the opportunity cost of raises, promotions, experience gathered, and reputation earned. The effect on a family already grappling with homelessness can be profound.

The majority of single-parent families are also headed by women, meaning that many such families rely on childcare both for their income and to ensure that their own children are safe during the workday. When there’s no home to keep the children in, childcare becomes even more critical. The salaries for these jobs have never been high, but they are critical resources in more ways than one. For many families, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is secondary to the immediate danger to their livelihood that inadequate child care represents.

Economic recovery from COVID-19 must include access to child care. That much is clear from the tragedies that we see each day at Family Promise. However, the child care system in Oregon was broken already. No system that crumbles under pressure is strong enough to assist the most vulnerable among us. Those of us who can empower better child care have a responsibility to do so to the greatest extent of our abilities. To do any less is to ensure that families with housing instability continue to struggle up the mountain of economic stability.

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The Mid-Willamette Valley has been a growing hotspot of homelessness and housing instability even before the COVID-19 pandemic. For a number of years, a drive downtown showed clear evidence that our community does not have an adequate system of supports for our homeless neighbors. The visual heartbreak is backed up by the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) that Congress receives from HUD. It shows that Oregon leads the nation in terms of unsheltered families.

I’m scared it’s going to get much worse.

Response to the COVID-19 health crisis has caused formerly stable jobs to wither or disappear completely. Families that were once marginally unstable can no longer pay the rent, and families that have a roof over their heads are one small financial incident away from losing their home. We now face a looming eviction crisis unlike anything we have ever seen before. I’m worried that more children are going to sleep outside this winter.

I don’t say the following lightly: our decisions in the upcoming months will impact a generation.

An executive order from early April has prevented landlords from evicting tenants in Oregon until after September 30th. Earlier this week, Governor Brown, the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human services extended the moratorium until December 31st. Without a significant financial investment, the new year may bring a wave of evictions unlike anything we have seen before. Our economically vulnerable neighbors and their children must be defended from a fiscal fallout that is not their fault and not of their making.

Avoiding eviction and keeping families housed makes good financial sense. Our model at Family Promise of the Mid-Willamette Valley has good data that shows actual costs for prevention, shelter, and long-term support. Over the past four years, we have found that it costs about $153 per year to keep a child housed. Compare that to an average of $4,500 we must spend every time we rehouse a homeless family. If that same family becomes chronically homeless, stabilizing that household costs close to $15,000 per year. That figure is just a fraction of the long-term costs of homelessness to the public. In addition, industry data shows that there is no discernible difference in rent collection rates in states with eviction moratoriums still in place and those whose moratoriums have expired.

To meet this impending crisis, we need compassion and caring for every member of our community. I ask you to support shelters and service providers like Family Promise so we can amplify our work. Talk to law makers and urge them to continue the moratorium on evictions, to continue rental assistance that keeps families housed, and to enact legislation that protects renters.

If you want to help, please contact us at tj@familypromisemwv.org. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please reach out to info@familypromisemwv.org.

COVID-19 has altered our way of life; don’t let it negatively impact the lives of vulnerable Oregon families forever.

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  • T.J. Putman

After years of discussion, deliberation and discernment we changed our name from Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network (SIHN) to Family Promise of the Mid-Willamette Valley and it wasn’t easy. There was the logistical side where there was an endless list of things to do, like using up old stationary, changing our website and informing the post office. We made it through that step with only a couple small hiccups. The hardest part of the name change was not tangible. Will we remain true to our mission? Would we continue to follow God’s promise in Matthew 11:28? (Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.) What about our new commitment to the word PROMISE? Could our promise as a faith community reflect the inherent potential and value of every family? I regularly assess where we stand in regard to our mission. We received a little affirmation of this promise when a formerly homeless mother shared the impact we had on her life. I encourage you to spend two minutes watching the video below.

P.S. More than ever before, We're committed to our mission and our promise to the community, “We are congregations practicing hospitality to stand together against homelessness and see lives changed, including our own. I'm thankful that you are part of that with us.

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