By Barbara Taormina
A crowd of friends, concerned citizens, advocates and supporters gathered at the Irish American Club this week for Housing Families’ Breaking Barriers Breakfast.
The breakfast, which featured a panel discussion on the impact of homelessness and housing insecurity on children’s health, is part of a new series of events developed to increase awareness about family homelessness and to raise funds to continue Housing Families’ work of providing temporary shelter and affordable housing to families in need.
Launched back in 1986 by a group of local residents who were concerned about the problem of homelessness in Malden, Everett and Medford, Housing Families has grown over the years to become one the largest organizations providing shelter and affordable housing for homeless and low-income families in Massachusetts.
Many who turned out for the breakfast work for different social service organizations and agencies in the area, and the event was a chance for them to network.
Housing Families CEO Ed Cameron welcomed the crowd and called them the first responders who help families tap into their strength and resilience as they struggle to overcome homelessness and the myriad of problems and challenges that come with it. “We are all part of the solution,” Cameron told the organization’s breakfast guests.
Dr. Ann Wu, an associate professor from the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Megan Sandel, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University’s Schools of Medicine and Public Health, and Barbara Schwartz, director of Housing Families’ GREAT Youth and Families Program, shared stories and information on how homelessness affects the health of families, particularly children.
“For patients in shelters, health care is often far away and inaccessible,” said Wu, adding that asthma is a common problem for children living in substandard housing. Children also often suffer more from colds and sleep deprivation, which leads to lower attendance at school and other problems.
Schwartz said that children she sees in Housing Families’ programs have a range of physical and emotional health problems. “We see kids who are depressed because they have lost so much,” said Schwartz, and staff try to make them feel safe through therapy and group counseling.
Sandel stressed that homes are part of the foundation for good health and success. Sandel, along with Wu and Schwartz, said it is wrenching for parents struggling with housing to also watch their children suffer with health problems. All three panelists called for more programs to support parents as their try to care for their children.
The breakfast was also a chance for Housing Families to ask for contributions to help support the organization’s many programs. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to make a big difference.
Cameron used a set of slides projected on an overhead screen to show how far contributions go toward helping families in need. For example, a $250 donation can provide a month’s worth of food for Housing Families’ children’s program. With a $100 contribution, the organization can offer a week of housing stabilization services to two families. A $50 gift can help maintain an apartment for a family for one entire month.
Housing Families hopes that events like the Breaking Barriers Breakfast will highlight the message that the organization needs community support and that everyone can be part of the solution to ending family homelessness.
For more information about Housing Families and to make a donation to the organization, visit Housingfamilies.org.