How the House of Hope Helps Homeless Rhode Islanders Amid the Pandemic
How one local nonprofit in Warwick gives back even through crisis.
With great hardship comes great resilience. The House of Hope Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit located in Warwick, was founded in 1989 with a mission to prevent homelessness. In recent months, its work has shifted to provide the resources and education to all Rhode Islanders about COVID-19, while championing justice and change for the homeless population.
We talked with Megan Smith, member of the House of Hope outreach program; Laura Jaworski, executive director; and Crystal Young, director of programs to learn more about House of Hope’s efforts.
What is House of Hope as an organization? What are the founding values?
Laura Jaworski (LJ): We have a formal mission statement crafted around addressing the personal and social trauma that comes with the homelessness experience and, of course, we have a commitment to developing affordable housing. On the frontlines, we do our work here at House of Hope with a person-first approach. The folks we do serve have experienced chronic homelessness. Although we have done some things virtually, we will continue to show up for people, because they rely on us. We are one of the few bridges that they have to humanity and oftentimes that leaves us to connect them to what they need.
In what ways was House of Hope affected by COVID-19 and what relief efforts have you introduced to benefit the community?
LJ: We do our work with care and compassion, but we know how to roll in a crisis, and know how to quickly work together and respond. How can we help keep people safe? What do they need? What we found was that these people had no idea there was a pandemic even going on. There was limited access and availability when places closed.
Crystal Young (CY): We put together a plan and by the next week we were fully staffed and had created a safe place for folks to go if they weren’t sure if they were positive. We were already fighting for these people. Homelessness doesn’t have a season, and we just never gave up on that.
Megan Smith (MS): As an outreach program, we were already in a position where we often see the people for whom the system doesn’t have a fit. That allowed us to have the right framework to approach the pandemic. It put us in a strong place because of our previous relationships with them. It takes an organizational culture that’s willing to stick it to the man when things like this happen.
What does a typical day at House of Hope look like?
MS: There’s no typical day. I love that we have the space to make our work more responsive. For my days, it’s a combination of street outreach, which includes walking around areas where there are higher concentrations of homeless people in the early mornings/late evenings. We talk with whoever wants to talk with us. That’s where we develop our connections. It’s a real mix of case management, bringing folks the resources they need, helping fill out housing forms, taking them to appointments, being part of the discussions/meetings about the system and more. It’s all part of the same goal: To do good client work, you have to know the policies.
LJ: No two are alike. I show up as much as I can and try to be present for two reasons: So that my team knows I am accessible and for relationships with the folks that are coming into the program. Each day is about working and understanding what our roles are in order to be successful.
How can someone who is interested in volunteering do so?
LJ: We are always looking for folks who are interested in helping us and people to join our outreach team. Advocacy is also really important, and because nonprofits have been really frayed, lending financial support can be a tremendous help to keep us going. We have a donate page on our website plus an Amazon wish list for items that are in need and kept current at House of Hope. thehouseofhopecdc.org