Safe Harbour Resource Center: Homelessness Support In Today’s Pandemic

By Ellie Gott, Light House Summer 2020 Intern

The Light House serves our most vulnerable community members. Their programs and services include a residential shelter program for homeless individuals and families, employment training services for Light House residents and community members, food programs to fight hunger, and their Safe Harbour Resource Center which focuses on homelessness prevention and outreach support to those who are unsheltered, chronically homeless, or at risk of homelessness.

Staff distribute bags of food to neighbors in need during Light House’s drive-through pantry. (Photo credit: Robert Madden

Safe Harbour, which is located in a section of the ground floor of The Light House’s 10 Hudson street facility, acts as the community arm of the organization. During normal operations, Safe Harbour provides a warm and welcoming space for those struggling with homelessness to come inside for simple dignities such as a cup of coffee, food, shower and laundry services, clean seats to rest on, and compassionate case management. Much has changed though, since the onset of the global pandemic.

Near the start of the Covid-19 crisis, to ensure the safety of clients, staff, and volunteers, The Light House responded by adjusting procedures and operations in all aspects of their programs and daily services. For instance, as an alternative to what had been operating in their designated indoor spaces, all Light House food programs are now offered in open-air spaces. Both a drive-through and outdoor walk-up pantry option are available in their back parking lot multiple times per week, and pantry items and boxed meals are also provided at other distribution sites in the county. To ensure access to food outside of pantry hours, bagged lunches and MREs (meals ready-to-eat) are available daily. In addition to food, Safe Harbour staff regularly provide items such as toiletries, tents, clothing, and masks to help homeless neighbors cover their basic needs.

Safe Harbour’s case management services also had to move to open-air spaces. They now provide their in-person case management outside on picnic benches with laptops. Case management services include eviction prevention and Rapid Rehousing support, medical bill assistance, and referrals to community agencies for issues such as domestic violence, addiction treatment, crisis response, and government agency navigation and benefits. Over the past few months, Light House staff have helped hundreds of new clients who are seeking these services because of hardships associated with the pandemic.

One primary focus of Safe Harbour case management is homelessness prevention, which means keeping struggling neighbors housed so that they don’t fall into homelessness. Many individuals and families served through Safe Harbour recently were secure in their income and housing situations prior to the pandemic, but due to these new hardships were at risk of losing their housing. Safe Harbour staff have provided over 70 of these impacted households with direct financial assistance through the Cares Act Program and successfully diverted them from becoming homeless during the pandemic. With the support of Safe Harbour staff, these individuals and families were able to stay safely in their homes.

Light House Rapid Rehousing Program Administrator, Kris McNally (right), providing housing search assistance to a Safe Harbour client in their outdoor space.

The difficulties that our neighbors experiencing or at risk of homelessness face will continue to increase due to the pandemic. Adequate supplies and/or living quarters for maintaining health precautions are not readily available, and those who have adequate housing but have lost work will be unable to regularly pay their rent, facing uncertainty for the future security of their housing. As in-person work opportunities open up, many are also having to maneuver through a shortage in childcare options. The additional stress that the pandemic has caused has understandably put a strain on the mental health and emotional well being of Light House clients who are already dealing with many other threats to their stability.

Director of Community Support and Diversion, Karen Williams, expects the need for Safe Harbour services to continue to increase as those currently or at risk of homelessness, work to recover from the loss of opportunity and added trauma resulting from the pandemic. “Donations to The Light house are always helpful, and right now more so than ever” she stressed, “the generosity of our community is what empowers our small but mighty organization to uplift our most vulnerable neighbors during this pandemic.”

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