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Friends & Neighbors

Thank you, volunteers!

At Housing Families First, we know exactly how lucky we are to have an amazing team of volunteers by our side! We couldn’t do what we do without them, and these volunteers are a crucial part of our mission to ensure that every family has a safe place to call home.

Volunteers have played a critical role in putting our building back together after renovations and construction wrapped up in early December. They have worked alongside us in putting together our beautiful new boutique, which holds new, donated household items that families can take with them on moving day. They’re there to help us keep our shelter and admin spaces clean and organized for the families we serve and for our community. They help us get rooms ready for new families and make and serve dinners here at the shelter. The list of things they do goes on and on! These incredible people who share their time and talents with us are helping to make our mission and vision a reality. We’ve been feeling especially grateful lately for the support we’ve felt from our volunteer family, and we believe it’s always better to share feelings of gratitude than keep them to ourselves! Whether a team that volunteers for a day, an individual who comes to work with us on a weekly basis, or a school or work group that regularly comes back with new members, we love and appreciate them all! These fabulous folks bring enthusiasm and positive energy to us when we need it the most, and the work that they do with us makes an important and positive impact on our organization, on our community, and on our world as a whole.

It takes a village, and we certainly are grateful for ours. Today, we’re sending huge, special, genuine thanks to our amazing volunteer family. Thank you for being an important part of our world, friends. We couldn’t do this without you, and we hope you know how very appreciated you are!

Check out our volunteer website to see how you can become a part of our volunteer family!

We’ve met our goal of raising $4,400,000!

We did it!

Thanks to you, we’ve reached our Opening Doors For Families capital campaign goal of $4.4 million!

We are excited to share that we have completed our goal of raising $4.4 million for our Opening Doors for Families capital campaign!

We originally set a goal of raising $4,400,000 by the end of 2022, and we did it with four months to spare. We could not have done it without our incredible community of supporters. Many generous foundations, congregations, businesses, and individuals helped us make this a reality. From all of us at Housing Families First, thank you!

Thanks to your generous donations, we will now be able to provide:

  • An opportunity for 300 additional people to move into housing each year
  • 10 additional shelter beds in private room settings
  • Emergency shelter services for 50 more children and parents each year
  • One additional fully handicapped-accessible shelter bedroom and bathroom
  • Improved family-friendly communal areas and improved activity areas for children
  • Additional space for volunteer activities and community resources
  • More parking spaces for clients, staff, and volunteers

Though we have reached our fundraising goal and the construction project is nearing completion, there’s still a lot of work to do, furniture to acquire, and volunteers to coordinate before our vision is truly a reality — and we’re looking forward to all of it! Find out how you can get involved!

Homelessness is a community issue and it takes the community’s support to create actionable solutions that work. In the case of the Opening Doors for Families capital campaign, YOU were the solution and we are eternally grateful.

Stay tuned for more information about an upcoming ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house celebration of our new-and-improved facility!

Through Open Doors: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Our Capital Campaign

In November of 2020, when Beth Vann-Turnbull asked Becky McNeer and me to co-chair the Opening Doors for Families campaign, I hadn’t fully realized that we weren’t starting a capital fundraise, rather we were beginning to wrap one up. For the world, we kicked off our campaign on October 20, but we’ve been raising toward our $4.4 million goal for over 3 years now. For the next several months, we’ll be celebrating how far we’ve come, we’ll be marching toward our ultimate fundraising goal, and we’ll be constructing our expansion. We will also be extending invitations to those in the community who don’t know us to become a part of our family and help us fight to end homelessness.

We’re asking individuals and families to help us get over the finish line by raising $250,000 before the end of our campaign, just a fraction of the total needed for our expansion. Since so much time and effort goes into planning and launching a big capital raise, we wanted to invite you behind the scenes so you can get a look at the work that goes into it and the people who are making it happen.

Through this series, I’ll share a unique perspective that I hope widens your understanding of the sweeping effort required to pull this off and connects you closer to our mission.

HFF Board Members (from Left to Right): Elizabeth Nice, Becky McNeer, Will Melton, and Kelly Evans

Finding Permanent Solutions for Families in Need

I joined the board at Housing Families First in March of 2020 after connecting with Beth through our Leadership Metro Richmond Quest Class of 2020. Through past board service, I’ve worked to both collect food for and feed people who are experiencing homelessness. Through my observations in that work, I’ve always been discouraged by the nature of the solutions available to actually remedy homelessness.

When I learned about the rapid rehousing model that Housing Families First leads with, I saw a solution that made sense. Providing shelter, addressing needs surrounding sustainability, providing a robust support system, and extending much-needed guidance all provide for a successful model for moving homeless families into permanent, stable housing.

Since joining the board, I’ve had the great honor to call on supporters and thank them for their contributions. In every single one of those conversations, donors express their unwavering support for Housing Families First and often tell of an urgent need to give because of a feeling of helplessness during a sustained crisis. For the same reasons, I have also felt an overwhelming urge to give. It is that common refrain that gives me the confidence that we’ll cross the finish line and usher more families into safe and stable homes.

Opening Doors for Families Campaign Ambassador Skylar and Mom Represent HFF at the ODF Public Launch Celebration

It Takes a Village, Not Just Today

Housing Families First embarked on creating its most ambitious long-range philanthropy plan in January of 2020. One of the key principles of our philanthropic charter is that we value gifts of time, talent, and treasure — because it takes more than just dollars to run this operation. As we began discussing our goals for the Opening Doors for Families campaign, we didn’t want to just focus on a monetary goal, we wanted to grow the size of our family.

In addition to monitoring progress toward our fundraising goal, we’re also tracking a number of non-revenue metrics like social media followers, email subscriber growth, donor retention and other key data points that will help us to fund our expanded operation once construction is complete. For instance, one big initiative that we’re championing for the duration of the campaign is A Donor a Day with a goal to add one new donor to our rolls for every day of the campaign. It’s all about power in numbers, and inviting our neighbors to become a part of our family.

In order to grow our family in an authentic way, we must be ready to give each and every contributor a personal experience with Housing Families First that connects them to our cause. As a part of this campaign, we’ll be introducing a host of recognition events and initiatives and we’ll communicate with donors, volunteers and community partners in a more personalized way. We’re already identifying and will continue to think up new creative ways for supporters to connect with us and with one another.

Campaign Ambassador Skylar Steals the Show at Our Public Launch and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in October!

We’re Celebrating & We Invite You to Join Us

Having raised $4,136,825 as of posting this, we’re already in celebration mode. We’re planning some exciting fundraisers, donor appreciation events, public art installations, new community partnerships, a new flashy peer-to-peer fundraising platform full of contests and awards, and so much more. Our brainstorming sessions are so full of ideas that we’re playing rock-paper-scissors in board meetings to decide which we can fit into the schedule. (Not really, but there is really so much creativity coming out of our planning sessions.)

Over the coming months, I’ll take a pause from time to time to acknowledge those who are working behind the scenes and share more details about what goes into making all of this happen. I hope you’ll read along as I document this pursuit and I invite you to celebrate with us along the way.

Right now, at this moment, you can take three small steps toward showing your support in a very BIG way and it will only take 3 minutes.

1. Sign up for our email newsletter and never miss an opportunity to participate in our events and celebrations.

2. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and engage with our posts when you see them. Every like, comment, or share gives us just a little more exposure to the community.

3. Commit to making a monthly recurring gift. Even if you just divide your annual gift by 12 (and add a dollar or two) it helps us grow our individual gifts and project how many families we can serve in the future. It will also serve as a regular reminder to you of your important contribution and valued connection to Housing Families First.

Of course, there is always more you can do, such as organizing a Peer-To-Peer campaign or volunteering for one of our events. If you have any questions about ways you can contribute or partner with us, please reach out. Our doors are always open.

Will Melton is a member at large on the Housing Families First Board of Directors and co-chairs the Opening Doors for Families Campaign. He is the founder and CEO of Xponent21, a digital marketing firm committed to making the world a better place to work.

Back to School in Shelter

It’s that time of year again, and we are once again getting ready for the start of an unprecedented school year here at Housing Families First.

Last year, the start of the school year in shelter looked different from any other. The school year was starting virtually, with no in-school option. The vaccine seemed impossibly far off and this photo of the socially distanced school tables is still all too real for us. To understand the energy of the fall of 2020, you can watch HFF ED Beth Vann-Turnbull’s 2020 back-to-school message HERE.

Things are looking a little different in 2021. Schools are offering in-person classes. Our families are getting ready to send their kids back to school and you can feel the familiar back-to-school excitement in the air. Ashley Stupak, HFF Family Housing Case Manager, touches on the back-to-school vibe in the shelter: “The younger kids are so excited and have been stuffing their backpacks as full as they can get.” Excitement is not the only emotion we’re seeing in the shelter, however. Ashley goes on to say: “The parents I have spoken to are excited but nervous. A few parents have expressed COVID-19 exposure concerns about kids returning to school.” Her work right now is focused. “This week,” Ashley said, “meetings are focusing on making sure all school-aged kids are enrolled in school and making sure everyone has all the school supplies they need.” Our staff is working hard to ensure that the kids will be ready in two weeks when they walk back into the classroom and that their families will be as protected as possible. 

Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Health came to HFF to conduct a COVID vaccination clinic for the families in shelter and any staff who had not already received the vaccination. We combined this with our school supply drive when the kids at Hilliard House could walk through and pick out their own school supplies. This event was hugely successful, with lots of families becoming safely vaccinated and kids smiling and cheerful with their new school supplies. We cannot express how happy and reenergized this made us, just when we needed it most.

The theme of the day is hope. There is a lot still to work through. We’re still looking COVID in the eye and it is still staring straight back at us. Kids 12 and under are still unable to be vaccinated. The Delta variant is posing a problem, especially for unvaccinated individuals. But, through it all, our kids are excited about going back to school. They are packing their backpacks with school supplies and getting ready to meet their teachers and classmates. Things are looking up, and for that, we’re grateful.

Good luck to all the kids out there getting ready to go back to school – some after being out of the classroom for a year and a half. We are excited for you and we have all the confidence in the world that you will do great things!

Community Partner Spotlight: The Ladies of the Omega Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has been in the spotlight recently as Kamala Harris — the first woman, the first Black woman, the first South Asian woman, and the first member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority –was elected Vice President of the United States in November. “Her story is our story,” her sorority sisters are quoted as saying. We would like to share the back story of AKA Sorority with you, because we are so very grateful for their partnership with Housing Families First, and because we are so very proud of all they do for our community.

Notable Sisters: Kamala Harris, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou

The mission of Alpha Kappa Alpha is to be of Service to All Mankind by addressing the critical issues that impact the lives of African Americans. Did you know that AKA Sorority is a member of the Divine Nine, a group of nine African American sororities and fraternities with a rich tradition of academic excellence and social progress? African American Greek life offers great opportunities to provide community outreach, gain leadership training and build lasting friendships. Kamala Harris is only one of many notable people who call themselves an Alpha Kappa Alpha sister. Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Maya Angelou were members of this venerable sorority, as well!

The Women of the Omega Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

“Get Your Boots On!”

The Omega Rho Omega chapter of AKA, started in 2017, is a relatively new chapter and serves Eastern Henrico, New Kent, and Charles City counties. Vice President and Program Chair Sherry Bassfield Tyler and Operation AKA Assist Co-Chair TMarie Hopkins were both elected to their positions in November of 2020, though they have a long history together; they’ve been sorority sisters since they were undergrads together at Hampton University in the late ’80s!

Sherry enjoys the grass roots level of getting out into the community and helping. She embraces the motto: “Service to All Mankind,” and she told us that their “get your boots on” philosophy of getting into the trenches and getting involved in the community is what it’s all about. This is exactly what ORO does. They get their boots on and jump right in.

Each chapter of AKA embraces five targets:

#1: Building Your Economic Legacy (Operation AKA Assist Program)

Building Your Economic Legacy: Operation AKA Assist Program

The Operation AKA Assist Program, part of “Building Economic Legacy,” is the program that works with Housing Families First and our families experiencing homelessness.  On Martin Luther King Community Impact Day (Jan 18), Operation AKA Assist provided Housing Families First with 250 bags decorated with encouraging words and filled with snacks and drinks for our families entering shelter. These snack bags make a world of difference to families in crisis, and can provide a caring touch in a moment of stress for our clients.

In addition to the snack bags brought to HFF, ORO also sent 1000 canned goods to the Boxes of Blessings Program, and wrote 270 thank you cards to businesses to thank them for being there during the pandemic.

The Operation AKA Assist project’s direction has since sharpened in focused and will concentrate on the relationship it has with Housing Families First, with a goal of strengthening the partnership to raise awareness about homelessness.  We are looking forward to seeing them again soon for our Evening Supper Program, when they will provide dinner for our clients in shelter.

This warm and caring group of women is the epitome of generosity in all its forms. One of our littlest shelter residents told TMarie, co-chair of Operation AKA Assist, that the ladies dropping off the snack bags were her “snack bag angels.” We agree. They are our angels, too!

Though this target is the one that directly impacts HFF, the other four are equally important and deserve recognition, as well:

#2: HBCU for Life: A Call to Action

HBCU for Life

ORO shared with its members and with us the powerful story of the rise, influence, and evolution of America’s HBCUs in the documentary: Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities.

#3: The Arts!

The Arts! A Celebration of the Harlem Renaissance

The ORO chapter will hold a virtual paint party in April! A local artist will be invited to instruct middle and high school students and chapter members on the Harlem Renaissance, which played a pivotal role in the development of African American art and culture. A fantastic time should be had by all, and supplies will be provided by the chapter.

#4: Women’s Impact and Wellness

Women’s Impact and Wellness: Pink Goes Red

Studies show that African Americans are 20% more likely to die of heart disease than non-Hispanic white Americans. The ORO chapter held a “Pink Goes Red” event for cardiovascular and heart disease in February, with the goal of raising awareness and encouraging education about heart disease in the African American community.

#5: Global Impact

Global Impact: Soles 4 Souls

Chapters worldwide are planning community service projects that will have a global impact, and ORO has several projects in the works already! Here are just a few:

* This week marks the beginning of a social media campaign on the importance of mask wearing and social distancing, including the newest information from the CDC. ORO recognizes the need for this messaging to come from trusted sources and wants to be sure that they do their part in the sharing of this information.

* ORO’s “Soles 4 Souls” campaign will collect hundreds of pairs of shoes for people in need. We will be delighted to share the donation information once it becomes available!

* June 20th is World Refugee Day, which ORO will celebrate with a virtual discussion panel of two refugees of African descent, partnering with organizations that provide assistance to refugees.

More great projects are on the way, and ORO will continue to create a positive change in their community each and every day!

Women of ORO

“A group of women who reign supreme in sisterhood, scholarship, and service to all mankind.”

Sherry, TMarie, and all the women of ORO live their lives in the service of others. They strive to put their community first every day. The five tenants, or “targets,” listed above are designed to advance the mission of Alpha Kappa Alpha with excellence and underscore their commitment to sustainable service.

The women of ORO address the critical issues that impact the lives of African Americans in their community and do so with a selfless enthusiasm that is truly beautiful. We are grateful for their dedication to those around them, in particular the families at Housing Families First.

Special thanks to VP and Program Chair Sherry Bassfield Tyler and Operation AKA Assist Co-Chair TMarie Hopkins for all they do for our community and for Housing Families First, and for generously giving of their time for this interview.

One Mother’s Journey Out of Homelessness

This is the story of a young mother of three, how she found herself without a home for herself and her children, and how she worked to make her way to a safe and lovely home for her family. This is also the story of how we were lucky enough to be a part of her journey.

Ms. W helps us to shine a light on the fact that applying stereotypes to our families simply does not work. Several years ago, Ms. W found herself a single working mother in an apartment she could not afford, and, feeling that she had no other option, she broke her lease. She and her children moved in with family members for a little while, until her mother’s death made it necessary for her to look for her own place. The rental judgement that had resulted from leaving her apartment made finding a rental for her family a difficult task. She found herself sleeping in her car and couch surfing while her children stayed with her sister. During this entire ordeal, Ms. W kept her job and went to work every day. She shares that when living paycheck to paycheck, “trying to maintain all of the regular bills and find the money to move is hard.” And then, near the end of last year, a Richmond Public Schools Bringing Families Home staff member told her she may be a match for our partnership program that works to move RPS students and their families who are unstably housed to stable, permanent housing. 

Ms. W and Bringing Families Home School Housing Navigator Destiny Hunter Worked Together to Find the Perfect Home for the W Family

Ms. W began working with HFF’s Bringing Families Home School Housing Navigator Destiny Hunter. Destiny shares: “Ms. W is an absolute pleasure to work with. She is extremely diligent about her goals and getting things done for herself and her family.”

Destiny Hunter, School Housing Navigator

The first step Ms. W and Destiny needed to take was to find an apartment that suited the W family with a landlord willing to work with them. The Bringing Families Home program partners with landlords ready to give our families a chance. This partnership assists not only our families looking for apartments, but also the landlords, who benefit by units that remain occupied and by HFF’s pledge to support our families along the way, allowing them to remain stably housed. Ms. W and Destiny worked together to find an apartment Ms. W loves. Ms. W shared that she is grateful not only for the Bringing Families Home program, but for all that Destiny did to help her in her journey. “Destiny is an angel. I pray for her every day. She helped me and advocated for me. I have two boys and a girl, and I wanted them to have their own home. I love our new home! It’s beautiful and everything I could have asked for. It’s perfect for my kids and me!” When she asked her kids if they loved their new home, they all happily shouted, “Yes!”

Breaking Down Barriers

We are delighted to share this success story of a young mother who had a job and a stable income, but like many parents was still living paycheck to paycheck. She needed help finding a landlord willing to look past her rental judgement and give her a chance. Bringing Families Home was able to help match her with a landlord who had a beautiful newly renovated apartment that she loved. It was also able to provide her with application fees, an apartment deposit, and even Christmas gifts for her children. These little boosts removed her barriers to permanent housing and allowed her to move her family to a home of their own. Ms. W has worked incredibly hard to get where she is. As Destiny says, “She works constantly but still somehow balances everything that is important.” 

A Happy Ending

We are thankful to have been able to be a part of this wonderful story. We send the warmest of Congratulations to Ms. W and her children, and also huge thanks to her for allowing us to share her success! We hope they all continue to love their new home, and that it brings them all the happiness in the world.

Housing Families First Announces Seven New Board Members

Housing Families First is proud to announce the appointment of seven new members to its board of directors, as well as the full slate of officers and board members for 2020-2021.

Joining the board of directors are Cinnamon Baker, Jovan Burton, Harvey Chambers, Lauren Leggett, Patricia Perry, Altise Street, and Tim Timmons.

“As Housing Families First seeks to move forward into the future, we have onboarded seven new board members. Each board member brings not only a skill set, but an ability to fully embrace the mission and vision of Housing Families First. I am honored to work alongside a great group of board members who assist to ensure the legacies of families are implemented through housing,” says Board President Kelly Evans.

Cinnamon Baker serves as Williams Mullen’s Director of Talent Management. Baker has more than a decade of experience in recruiting, mentoring, and client service, having worked at law schools’ career service departments dedicated to building relationships with students, alumni, and employers. Prior to joining Williams Mullen, Baker worked at the William & Mary Law School, where she served as assistant dean for employer relations. Baker earned her Professional in Human Resources Certification (PHR) from the Human Resources Certification Institute in June 2012. She also graduated with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Dayton School of Law in 2004 and received her B.F.A. from Florida State University in 1994. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Jovan D. Burton, Director of Implementation at Partnership for Housing Affordability, joins the board of directors as outgoing president of the Housing Families First Junior Board. Prior to his current position, Burton served as a tax credit allocation coordinator with Virginia Housing (formerly Virginia Housing Development Authority). Burton received his Bachelor of Arts in foreign affairs from Hamden-Sydney College in 2017, and he is currently enrolled in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU completing coursework towards a Master of Public Administration degree. Burton also currently serves on Mayor Levar Stoney’s Eviction Task Force Policy Subgroup and the Longevity Task Force for the Longevity Project for a Greater Richmond.

Harvey Chambers is a Community Relations Consultant with Anthem, Inc. Virginia Medicaid Sales & Marketing. In 1982, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in mass communications from Virginia Commonwealth University. Chambers holds the designation of Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), has earned a certificate as a Lay Health Promoter (LHP), and is a licensed Health, Life, and Annuity, and Property and Casualty agent by the Commonwealth of Virginia Bureau of Insurance. On July 1, 2020, Chambers was appointed by the Commonwealth of Virginia Senate Rules Committee to serve with the Commonwealth Council on Aging. He also serves as a board member for Virginia Ability, Vice President of Mountain Road Townes Homes Owners Association, and as a member of Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging (SC/CAAA) Advisory Council. He is also a member of the Area Planning and Services Committee (APSC) on Aging with Lifelong Disabilities in Greater Richmond, Central Virginia Task Force on Domestic Violence in Later Life, and the Virginia Caregiver Coalition.

Lauren Leggett, Analyst at CarMax, joins the board as an outgoing member of the Housing Families First Junior Board. Leggett received a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in communication and technology from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2002. Leggett is a member of the Junior League of Richmond and also serves as a board member of Ten Thousand Villages, a Project Leader & Volunteer with HandsOn/Doorways, and an advocate and volunteer with Safe Harbor.

Patricia Perry serves as Assistant Vice President for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Perry received a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Hampton University, a Master of Business Administration from the College of William and Mary, and she attended the Graduate Banking School at the University of Colorado. Perry also serves as the president of the Richmond Chapter of the National Hampton Alumni Association and a trustee of Westwood Baptist Church.

Altise Street is the Richmond/Southside Outreach Manager for 2-1-1 Virginia, where she works to improve community knowledge, establish and increase utilization of the service, and serves as a liaison with community stakeholders. Street studied business at Virginia Commonwealth University and obtained her Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. 

Tim Timmons joins the Housing Families First Board of Directors as the Enrollment Coordinator at Cristo Rey. Timmons is a graduate of Richmond Community High School and Howard University in Washington, DC, and he is a current graduate student in urban curriculum and education at Virginia Union University. Along with his role at Cristo Rey, Timmons is the youth minister and social justice co-chair at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, located in Richmond’s historic Highland Park Neighborhood.

These new directors join the following slate of current Officers and Directors: Kelly Evans, president; Emily Jasper, vice president; Kathy Burke, secretary; Wayne Lee, treasurer; Sarah Brockwell, immediate past president; Sara Blose; Timothy Borchert; J. Benjamin English; Monica Lucas; Becky McNeer; Will Melton; Elizabeth Nice; Tameka Webb, and Mary Beth Yates.

Online Learning at Hilliard House Shelter

Like many other school-aged kids around the country, kids living at Hilliard House Shelter will be learning virtually this fall, and we have been busy preparing. After multiple collaborative meetings with Richmond City and Henrico County Public Schools, we have created a safe and socially distanced space for each of our students to participate in online school here at the shelter.

Each student receives the school supplies they need to succeed in virtual learning.

Housing Families First Program Director, Cindy Moussavou, shares her thoughts: “The HFF staff is hyper-committed to this issue of school supply readiness, childcare needs, and educational access- virtual or otherwise- throughout the year. We continue to serve families moving through hotels, emergency shelter, and into rental units while supporting them in the undertow of the pandemic and its dire effects on the existing housing affordability crisis. When we ask families to rise, we rise with them. This is just another example of that rising. With you, our partners and neighbors, we are successfully equipped to support them at each step.”

Hundreds of school supplies were donated by generous community members.

Due to our diligent planning and preparation, Housing Families First has been asked to share our plans for virtual schooling in shelter to be used in shelters throughout the country. In addition to reconfiguring and boosting our Wi-Fi capabilities to ensure all kids have the internet access they need to fully participate in their classes, we have solicited and received small tables to create socially distanced spaces for learning. We created a detailed enhanced list of school supplies the kids will need to start the school year virtually in shelter, which have now been donated by our wonderful support network. The parents are the learning coaches, but our social work intern is acting as our school champion at the shelter, ready to help with any needs that arise. We’re ready!

HFF Executive Director Beth Vann-Turnbull wishes everyone a happy first day of school! Watch video:

We at Housing Families First wish all students, parents, teachers, school staff, and especially our partners at Henrico County McKinney Vento Office and Richmond City Schools Family Support Center a fantastic start to the school year. We are, as always, thankful for our village.

Hotels to Homes

Destiny Hunter, School Housing Navigator

A hotel is often the last stop before a family facing homelessness hits the shelter or the streets. Now, due to the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, many families are at risk of losing this housing of last resort, as Mark Robinson highlighted in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article last month.

Thanks to a $500,000 Community Innovation Grant from the Robins Foundation, Housing Families First and the Richmond Public Schools Family Support Center created the Bringing Families Home program to help families precariously housed in hotels or overcrowded situations move into permanent homes. The program was slated to begin in July 2020, but the pandemic has brought urgent needs to our community.

Funders for Housing and Opportunity is providing a grant in response to COVID-19 so that this vitally important housing program can begin immediately. Staff from the RPS Family Support Center, as well as the Henrico County Public Schools McKinney-Vento Office, may refer students and their families struggling to sustain hotel stays to Housing Families First (HFF). We can then provide one-time financial assistance to facilitate leasing an apartment, as well as housing search help and housing counseling provided by our newly-hired School Housing Navigator. Destiny Hunter, a Housing Families First and Homeless Crisis Line staffer for the past 18 months, has been tapped to take on this new role.

Our housing-focused pandemic response, made possible by Funders for Housing and Opportunity and individual donors, will wind down just as the Bringing Families Home project ramps up for the 2020-2021 school year, providing an opportunity for a continued partnership with the RPS Family Support Center. Over a third of RPS students in housing transition are chronically absent due to illness, suspensions, frequent moves, and parental stress. The Robins Foundation Community Innovation Grant will provide the resources for Housing Families First to move over 400 RPS students and their families from motel rooms and friends’ couches into a home of their own over the next three years. We’re ready to get started!

Snapshots from the Shelter

Yesterday as I was leaving the shelter, the last thing I saw was a family – both parents and their children – patiently waiting in the lobby while our gloved Overnight House Manager took one temperature, then disinfected the thermometer, then took another temperature, disinfected again, and repeated. These are new and strange times for the families living in our programs and the Housing Families First staff.

Since there is virtually nowhere in the world untouched by concern about the coronavirus, none of us are immune to the disruption and anxiety it brings. What’s it like to live and work in a family shelter right now? What is Housing Families First doing to keep people safe and sane, as well as weather the pandemic so that we can continue to operate once it subsides?

For context, 31 children and adults in 10 families are living in our Hilliard House shelter. Another 107 people in 30 households are participating in our rapid re-housing program, most of whom are newly housed and working toward longer-term housing stability.

Our staff continues to work with these 138 program participants throughout this pandemic, albeit in different ways than we ever imagined. Geneen, our Shelter Case Manager, put it best: “During these trying times we will continue to circle around our families in shelter and in the communities with an abundance of resources and proactive measures that will allow them to safely move through their crisis.”

I want to share an overview of what we are doing in our programs to keep everyone safe. But first, I want to share a little about what some of our team are seeing and feeling right now:

Cindy, Program Director: “As a staff member and a parent with young children, I have been encouraged by the resiliency of our families experiencing homelessness as they continue to practice social distancing within the shelter as best as possible, while also showing solidarity alongside us, “gloving up”, as we say, to disinfect surfaces, take their family temperatures daily, and navigate the community closures. We are stronger together, even while we are physically apart.”

Kristin, Rapid Re-Housing Case Manager: “The COVID-19 virus has the Rapid Rehousing team working from home, and has severely limited our physical contact with clients. This distance has served to remind me of the value of human connection- just BEING THERE. In this age of automation, self-checkout, and digital interaction, I think we forget the value of sitting in the same room as another person, and how therapeutic it is to just be with other human beings, especially in times of uncertainty or great need.

Terri, Director of Operations & Volunteer Engagement: Balancing the needs of our shelter community with the needs of my own family has been heavy. Teaching myself how to prepare our shelter for a crisis no one in our time has experienced is a big task. Watching our staff and families rise and really come together to support each other, balance the stress and walk together in this is humbling.”

If you would like to help our families by supporting Housing Families First, please consider emailing an Amazon gift card to or making a donation online to support continued staffing and operations. Just as importantly, the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care providers, the network of homeless service agencies in this region, are all working together with the City and counties to create sound guidelines and secure additional shelter, housing, and medical resources to deal with this crisis to the very best of our ability. Other agencies and government entities are working together to provide short-term hotel stays to get vulnerable people off the streets, and they are looking for volunteers to provide and deliver meals to hotels. Sign up at if you would like to help.

As promised, here is a brief overview of the safety and sustainability measures we are taking at Housing Families First:

1) Cleaning: Strict cleaning protocols have been implemented throughout the shelter and offices, and shelter participants are asked to pitch in, as possible. Furniture, toys, books, and other non-essential items have been removed from common areas to avoid possible contamination and promote easier cleaning.

2)  Social Distancing/Isolation: Each family at Hilliard House has their own bedroom and bath, a unique feature of our shelter. To encourage families to stay in their rooms as much as possible, families have been offered new, unused items that we have on hand such as books and games.

3) Meals: We stocked up on at least a two-week supply of breakfast and lunch foods and continue to serve hot meals for dinner. Tables for meals have been spaced at least six feet apart, and families may also eat dinner in their bedroom to avoid common areas altogether. A generous patron of Alewife (voted the South’s Best New Restaurant 2020 by Southern Living) donated a gift card to provide meals for our shelter, and the Alewife team is safely preparing the food that our staff will receive. This will greatly help us extend our supply of on-hand foods.

4) Staffing and Supportive Services: While we must have staff onsite day and night to keep the shelter operational, we are reducing the number of shelter and admin staff onsite to no more than three at a time. Our rapid re-housing team and our staff members that work with the regional Homeless Crisis Line are working from home and helping client families connect to community resources and stabilize in housing through calls, texts, and email.

5)  Volunteers and In-Kind Donations: As long as Richmond and/or Henrico County Public Schools are closed, we will not have anyone who is not on staff or a current resident of the shelter on our campus, except for emergencies. While we appreciate everyone’s generous spirit, we also cannot accept any donations of items onsite at this time. We have asked, although it has not always been heeded, that piles of unsolicited donations not be left in our breezeway, leaving the staff to dispose of them. (Friends don’t let friends dump and drive.)

6) Finances: The Executive and Finance Committees, along with staff leadership, have discussed agency finances and are implementing measures to continue full operations while conserving as many resources as possible, given that grant reimbursements may be slower and gifts may decrease during this time when families will likely need more emotional and financial support. In short, we want to be the best possible stewards of every dollar and resource that we have.

If you have questions or suggestions, please email me at Thank you for your concern and support during these challenging times for all of us. Stay safe and be well! –Beth

Beth Vann-Turnbull is Executive Director of Housing Families First.

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