As homeless shelters close throughout the Columbus area due to coronavirus concerns, Valley Interfaith Promise is participating in street outreach to help the homeless community.
Valley Interfaith Promise, or VIP, is a sheltering program for homeless families with children. As part of Family Promise, a national organization, VIP houses homeless families in empty church congregations.
Malinda Shamburger, the director of Valley Interfaith Promise, said that the program tries to look at homelessness from a holistic approach. Along with temporarily housing families, Valley Interfaith Promise transports the children of these families to school and the parents to work.
If the parents are unemployed, VIP helps these families with job search assistance. VIP connects these families with community resources to help them learn necessary life skills such as budgeting, understanding lease agreements, and managing credit cards.
The number of weeks a church hosts a family is dependent on the number of churches in each network. Eight congregations in the Valley Interfaith Promise network volunteer to host one of the VIP families for one week, four times a year. At the moment, Valley Interfaith Promise can host up to three families at one time, never exceeding more than fourteen people.
However, the onset of COVID-19 caused churches in Columbus to close to the public as a consequence of the March shelter-in-place order. Once the shelter-in-place order was lifted, many churches remained closed, including all of the churches in the VIP network. COVID-19 has stopped VIP’s ability to house families in church congregations.
“COVID-19 has completely shut us down,” Shamburger said. “Our model is using church congregations and so, unfortunately, at this time, churches aren’t churches. [They] aren’t open.”
Unemployment or reduced working hours caused by COVID-19 has led to an increase in need for homeless shelters. Shamburger said that many jobs that allow people to work from home require at least a high school education, something that many homeless or poverty-stricken families do not have.
“Imagine everything that’s happening in the pandemic, just view that through a magnifying glass where people are living in poverty, because just as hard as it may be for the average person, for someone who’s living in poverty, that that need is magnified by say ten times, a hundred times,” Shamburger said. “As a society, we are very interconnected and our dependency on one another has shown up in a big way”
An unintended consequence of COVID-19 is the decision by many homeless people to choose the streets over a shelter. People in the homeless community worry about overcrowding in shelters and the spread of disease.
“There were a lot of people that were living on the street that were like, ‘You know what? I’ll take my chances out here, out here on the street.’ As opposed to being somewhere where I have more potential of catching the virus,” Shamburger said. “In an addition to that, sometimes when you get a lot of people in crowded spaces, sometimes, people clash. So there were a lot of people [who] were feeling afraid of being in that number, the potential of catching COVID.”
Instead of housing families, Valley Interfaith Promise has partnered with Home for Good and United Way to do street outreach. Receiving donations from the Columbus community, VIP volunteers are able to give food, clothes, and toiletries to people who are homeless.
“Joining in with Home for Good, [we’re] going out and doing street outreach, [we] have people call all the time with donations of food, donations of clothes, donations of toiletries,” Shamburger said. “So [we’re] still serving that same population of people who are living in poverty on the verge of becoming homeless –so still working with that community–but just kind of meeting them wherever and however we can assist in need.”
Interested volunteers can contact Malinda Shamburger at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.