A message from 5CHC Executive Director Janna Nichols
As I take pause to reflect on 2020, the year that some have labeled COVID 2020, I am filled with memories and emotions that range from dark to light. I have seen it described as the year that wasn’t, when all that was planned was lost. Some called it the most challenging year of their lifetime. Others coined a new term, the year of the “essential worker.” Certainly, it’s been the “virtual year” of zoom meetings and family gatherings. It has also been a year of togetherness (while physically distant), a year of herculean innovation, and a year for new beginnings.
For those of us at 5CHC, it has been all of these.
The Lost Year?
When the calendar turns over each year, I usually spend the first three months updating plans; deciding what to continue as “business as usual” and what new hopes and dreams we want to make happen. So, when we suddenly found ourselves confronting the unknown in mid-March, we found that “business as usual” was no longer an option. All was not lost, but our hopes and dreams became more, well, personal – health, safety, and the well-being of our clients and our staff.
The Most Challenging Year of Our Lifetime?
Time will only tell if this is true, but for many of us at 5CHC and those we serve, I will say it has been our toughest, thus far. Faced with the pandemic, economic chaos, and uprisings to confront racial and social injustices, we struggled – beginning with the first question we faced:
How can those who are homeless, those who have no home, “shelter-at-home”?
The Year of the Essential Worker?
It is a term that almost seems “normal” now. I will say, as I think about our staff at 5CHC, while they are passionate about our work, I never recognized how essential this team is. That is, until we joined together for a mandatory staff meeting with our Board President, Mike Byrd, on Monday, March 16th. It was the last time that we were all together, in one place, able to work and plan face-to-face. We shared our fears for our clients, for ourselves, our children, our parents, our grandparents, for our community. It was one of the most heart-warming and emotional moments we have ever spent together.
What we came to was the realization that we needed to roll up our sleeves in a whole new way, despite personal fears, and get to work. And get to work we did. It was all hands on-deck to protect our homeless neighbors against coronavirus. Staff assignments were made, Board and volunteer needs were identified, community connections and questions were asked. For each of us, our roles changed, new ideas were born, and our business became anything but “usual.”
I am personally so grateful, and could not have been more in awe of our board and staff’s dedication and passion.
We shut our doors and yet readied for what we knew would be increased calls for assistance. A change of how we do business didn’t mean that we slowed nor stopped. We have fielded nearly 5,000 calls this year. With over 600 calls in December, we are averaging nearly three times the calls per month than we received prior to COVID.
Many people have been displaced this year and lost their housing. With this we have increased our outreach efforts to connect with those on the street, in their cars, and camping off the beaten path. We found ways to help those most vulnerable “shelter-at-home” in a new case-managed camping/motel program. In the three months that we operated this program (prior to the “shelter-at-home order” being lifted), with the support of the County to use campground space, we housed six families and reunified one with family out-of-state. We continue to look for a location and partners to help us to resume this program.
For 5CHC, a Year of Togetherness and Innovation
For those of us at 5CHC, this has meant leveraging partnerships in new ways, and coming together with new community partners. I am grateful to our friends at 40 Prado-CAPSLO and ECHO, who were there to help and lend an ear when needed. I am grateful for the new partnerships we forged. When the rains continued and our volunteers were unable to help us at our winter shelter, County employees stepped in to fill the void. Their support enabled us to keep the shelter open on those final rainy and cold nights through April.
In the early days, before our beloved Food Bank was able to ramp up, local restaurants, churches and food suppliers came forward to offer food and staples. And they brought their partners to our table. So many in our community have found news ways to help us, despite their own circumstance.
Despite tragedy and darkness, there has been hope
We lost many clients this year. Noah, an adult disabled client, died in June. Yet in September, we were able to help his parents move into an apartment after living in their car for three years.
- Sonic celebrated his 6th birthday moving into a home, something he had not had in more than a year.
- In total this year we served more than 700 people, including 250 children, though our programs.
- Especially important, we were able to help 70 families find housing, and another 60 keep from losing their home
I want to share with you the heartfelt tears of joy and gratitude we have received from these families.
I am ending this year worried about the next. As the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness will continue to be a crisis for us locally and across our nation. It is likely that the consequences of the pandemic, a national recession, and deep economic disparities will drive more of our neighbors into homelessness, especially those who are very old, and those just coming of age.
We must treat this challenge like the health crisis that it is – there is nothing more clear to me than the connection between health and housing. And yet, we anticipate that when the rental eviction moratorium ends there will be a tsunami of need, as families struggle to stay in their homes. 5CHC and our partners stand ready to help.
Lastly, let me share that I am inspired by hope and filled with gratitude. We live in a generous and caring community. If there is one thing this year has taught me, it is that there is tremendous strength when we work together. The synergy of the professional expertise of our staff, coupled with the heart of community volunteers, the leadership of our Board, the guidance and support of local government, and the goodwill of local business and individuals, has made this year remarkable despite the obstacles.
I thank each and every one of you for your support, partnership, leadership, and heart – working together to do our work.
Health and comfort for the coming year,