So much has changed in the past several months, but our commitment to serving our community is as strong as ever. We are glad to provide this interview with our Executive Director, Christa Hines, on our continued response to COVID-19 and other key concerns of our community.
Published on July 6th, 2020
What has it been like operating as an essential business during this time?
When the pandemic first hit, we had to make quick decisions about our 200 person staff – all deemed essential. Balancing the health and safety of our staff with the needs and safety of our residents and community remains our top priority. Communication has become more important than ever as circumstances change so rapidly, playing a critical role in us staying connected to each other as well as to the community.
What changes do you anticipate as the summer months arrive? How will the phased re-opening of the Mid-Hudson region affect Hudson River Housing?
As an essential business, our residential locations and emergency services have been up and running since the pandemic began. As the Mid Hudson region begins the fourth phase of reopening this week, we are reopening our administrative offices on a modified basis. We have also begun the reopening of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, which had also been closed to the public. We are closely adhering to state protocols on social distancing, temperature checking, and sanitation of all our buildings. The public will be required to wear a mask while in our buildings and maintain social distancing. All protocols will be clearly identified with signage.
In the early days of the pandemic, a lot of attention was focused on the Webster House shelter relocation. How has that been going? What challenges and successes have you seen?
Operating our Webster House shelter out of the Dutchess County pods allowed us to safely and efficiently serve everyone that needed emergency shelter during the pandemic, which posed a major risk to homeless communities. Being able to serve 90+ guests each day for a continuous 24 hours through our partnership with Mental Health America’s Living Room program has definitely been a great benefit to our guests, allowing for more intensive care management. I would like to acknowledge the many donors who continue to bring meals to this new location. We greatly rely on these food donations and due to the pandemic we have unfortunately seen a decline in the numbers of people and groups that are able to participate. We recognize that it is challenging, and want to express our gratitude for all those able to help.
Do other programs continue to be operational? Have you seen any changes in needs, or had to change how you are serving the community through these programs?
Most of our programs and services have been operational during the pandemic. It has been challenging serving our clients in the same way as we did pre-Covid, however with technology and new protocols, we are able to. In some cases our staff has reoriented to critical community needs – for example, our community engagement team has been instrumental in managing our Emergency Response Fund, and our property managers and care managers spent many hours calling our tenants to see how they were faring.
What community needs are currently showing up as most urgent?
So many families are precariously teetering on the brink – just a paycheck away from a real housing crisis and even homelessness. HRH launched our Emergency Response Fund in March, and to date we have received over 200 applications seeking well over $350,000 in financial support for rent and utilities. Our small business community is also seriously suffering; many facing significant financial challenges from being closed for months with little to no income, and struggling to access traditional support systems or information. The short term solution is financial assistance coupled with language-inclusive, focused information. Nothing can replace the time that is needed to connect one on one and build relationships and trust.
What do you anticipate the next 6-12 months will bring for the housing field?
We were in an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic hit and unfortunately, these past few months have made our work much more challenging. We anticipate that we will see many more families struggling to maintain their housing as they deal with continued unemployment, medical bills, and savings accounts that have been depleted. This will push even more households into housing instability if we don’t act to safeguard safe, affordable housing for all. The housing market is also under pressure with more people looking to relocate to the Hudson Valley. We are greatly concerned with issues of displacement as housing prices continue to rise. We have been reaching out to our community to listen and respond in whatever way possible, and this work will continue as we progress through the pandemic and experience the longer lasting effects of Covid-19.
How is Hudson River Housing advancing racial equity, in response to current events and long-term?
The first and very important step we are taking is acknowledging the long history of racist housing policies that have manifested in disinvestment of communities and deep disparities in housing and homelessness. A direct line can be drawn between housing injustice and the fight for greater equity that we are seeing today. In order to create change, we must first acknowledge these systems that have oppressed and devalued our communities of color.
In conducting our daily work, we are committed to centering the voices of those who are homeless, who have experienced barriers to housing equity, and anyone who might not have access to a safe and secure place to call home because of income disparities. This is what drives our decisions, and it is underpinned by our values of compassion, transparency, empathy, and inclusivity.
What can the community do to help? (advocacy, fundraising, sharing info with friends/neighbors, volunteering, etc)
This crisis has highlighted the need to reorient where home falls on our spectrum of what is important. Hudson River Housing is an organization that is prepared to repair the issues that are before us, and we have the vision of where we can go together. But we can’t do it without your help. A couple ways you can get involved:
Stay connected on social media for timely calls to action and join the fight in advocating for housing justice.
Speak up by sharing your housing experiences.
Give time and learn more about homelessness in our community by volunteering with our meal prep program.
Make a contribution to our Emergency Response Fund.
HRH is deeply committed to serving the community and this pandemic clearly demonstrated how much the community relies on our programs and services. It has also shined a very bright light on the importance of home, as we have been asked to shelter in place and remain in our homes, a very difficult thing to do when you don’t have one or if you live in a place unfit or unsafe.