President Pam Ingram of Soroptimist of Greater Santa Clarita Valley (right) donating $2,000 to Family Promise on March 18 to house homeless mothers and their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Family Promise

Imagine your anxieties of finding a stable home have finally settled. After months of housing insecurity, you have graduated from Family Promise’s Shelter program, a local nonprofit that provides shelter and services to homeless families. However, just as a sense of relief starts to set in, you have lost your job because of COVID-19 and are back in a position of housing insecurity. 

This is the unfortunate reality for some individuals in Los Angeles County, according to Dr. Roché Vermaak, Executive Director of Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley.

The original model of helping homeless families has changed for most of the 207 Family Promise Affiliates across the nation, including the SCV chapter. 

“We are reimagining what Family Promise would look like in the next 6 months, in the next year and in the years ahead.”

Dr. Roché vermaak

The national model, prior to COVID-19, consisted of over 200,000 volunteers creating temporary shelter for families at congregations, affiliates providing resources to find work and/or housing, and 6,000 congregations sheltering families at one-third the traditional housing cost. 

The stabilization it provided allowed families who are housing insecure to build independence through housing and career opportunities. However, the pandemic has caused uncertainty in the SCV nonprofit, causing it to furlough three staff members due to financial reasons. 

As a result Vermaak is the only employee providing case management for over 30 families in the SCV; helping them find work, food, housing and social services. 

Finding work for his clients has been a struggle. Vermaak receives daily emails from L.A. County, but job opportunities in SCV are absent. 

About 90% of his clients are single mothers, so even if they do find a job, they must also worry about childcare. Some churches and synagogues also served as preschools so parents could drop off their children and go to work, but that is not possible anymore since they are closed. 

“If you don’t have childcare, you can’t go look for a job and that’s the biggest struggle that low income families face,” Vermaak said. 

Another struggle for these families is finding a place to live. 

Family Promise refers all homeless families first to LA Family Housing and Bridge to Home, who receive housing vouchers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. They have helped six-to-seven Family Promise clients find a place to live, for now.

Family Promise also housed their clients on a weekly basis at churches and synagogues, but are currently using motels since they are all closed. This has turned out to be extremely expensive, costing about $3,000 a month for one family, according to Vermaak. 

“In March, all 13 of our overnight host congregations closed [and] when you don’t have an overnight host site where you can house people, it just makes it difficult,” Vermaak said.

Family Promise also receives grants to fund their program, but the effects of COVID-19 have changed access to these grants, and their full amounts.

A Community Development Block Grant of about $1.25 million was given to Santa Clarita by Housing and Urban Development in 2019. The CDBGs are administered to nonprofits by SCV to provide decent housing, and to expand economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income people, and Family Promise received $22,600 of this funding. 

Dr. Vermaak (right) at last years Family Promise Golf Tournament Fundraiser.
Photo courtesy of Family Promise

However, it has been notified by a different foundation, that preferred to remain anonymous, who will continue with their funding with an exception.

“One foundation said that the stock market decline will influence the growth, capital gains and dividends they receive to fund grants,” Vermaak said. 

Family Promise will ultimately receive less funding because this foundation lost so much in the stock market, and they cannot provide the nonprofit with the usual amount. 

The center also benefits from fundraising. Their largest event is a golfing tournament that raised about $60,000 net in 2019. This year’s was supposed to be held in October or November, but the global pandemic caused all in person fundraising events to be canceled.  

“Fundraising is difficult right now,” Vermaak said. “How do you ask people for money when they don’t know if their job is secure?”

Family Promise is now trying to find ways to raise money virtually. On June 6 and 7, it is partnering up with Called to Movement to hold a virtual yoga and meditation session. Participants must register by June 1, and pay $15 for every class they would like to attend. 

Vermaak encourages the people of Santa Clarita to get creative with their fundraising, and even recommended for people to donate excess toiletries. He believes it is still possible to help those in need. 

“We have a wealth of resources and caring within our community, […] It’s about taking that wealth and sharing it and bringing joy to a homeless family,” Vermaak said. “It’s not about Family Promise, it’s about the Santa Clarita Community.”

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