A week into our second monthlong stay-at-home order, and it’s hard to get away from the news stories about COVID-19. It has affected our everyday life, personally and professionally, in a way that I’m not sure any of us were ever prepared. The articles from our Giving Voice column have illustrated how Tedford Housing, The Gathering Place, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Oasis Free Clinics have reacted to and adjusted services to meet the needs of our community’s most vulnerable neighbors.

While we have all had to make changes in the way in which we work with our clients, we continue to offer much-needed programs and services. Even while practicing extreme social distancing, Tedford Housing’s overarching goal continues to be to find our clients safe, permanent housing. This feat can be challenging enough without a global pandemic, as our clients have many barriers to break through in the process of finding that pathway from homelessness to home.

We have shared that Tedford Housing’s buildings are closed to the public and staff are working from home as much as possible. Case managers are meeting with clients mostly via phone, email or text. Zoom is used from time to time, but only if the client has the capability of using such an application.

So how does this new, different way of working affect finding housing? For one thing, it slows the already slow process down. Tedford Housing staff aren’t the only ones working remotely. Landlords and property managers may not be in their offices and only checking their email or messages once/day or even once/week. Same thing with the offices that manage housing vouchers. In-person tours of a potential apartment are no longer happening during COVID-19, so everything is done via a camera, including inspections that are required by specific housing vouchers once an apartment is found. Vetting is much more difficult for both landlord and tenant when you lose the ability to be in the same room with a person.

As far as the case managers at our adult and family shelters go, it’s business as usual. They may not be in the office every day during the week, but they continue to work with clients to find apartments, fill out applications and guide our shelter guests through the many steps it takes to get to the point of signing a lease. One of our families moved into an apartment without seeing it first. Though it made the mom a bit uncomfortable, she talked with her case manager about how she could always look at other options in a year if she wasn’t happy with the apartment. The main goal was to move out of the shelter into permanent housing.

Two of what we call long term stayers in our adult shelter and one family in our family shelter have found housing during this difficult time. Being in the shelter for over 300 days, these individuals overcame some big obstacles to sign their leases with the help of their case manager. Moving has become particularly difficult because most of our clients rely on help from friends. With social distancing and restrictions on travel with people other than your household become a challenge. Our partners at Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity’s Restore are temporarily closed, which limits our ability to help clients access the household items they need to furnish their new

apartment. We have to take extra precautions with volunteers who help sort and gather donations to fulfill clients’ moving checklists. Once in an apartment, our case managers then “follow” clients for up to 12 months to help ensure a smooth transition. Losing the personal touch of on-site meetings can be tough because you lose the cues that body language can give you if a person is having a hard time. Many of our clients are struggling with isolation, financial stresses and addiction, making it harder to keep people stable and supported via the telephone.

Tedford Housing is making it work during this pandemic, especially our case managers. We are happy to report that people are still being housed even if it takes a bit more time.

Jennifer Iacovelli is Tedford Housing’s director of development. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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