A resilient staff, a loyal board, and faithful volunteers - all giving support to homeless families in new ways - has kept New Pathways, which is an organization based in Cambridge whose mission is to “build a stronger community by providing shelter and support services to families with children experiencing homelessness, moving forward.
On the home page of its website, the organization, which serves Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec, Mille Lacs and Pine Counties, boldly proclaims “Family homelessness isn’t going away and neither are we! We will continue to serve those in need during the COVID pandemic.”
Though each day brings some unknowns to deal with, networking with services available in Isanti County has also helped during this time of extra COVID issues. Isanti County Emergency Management, Public Health, and Human Service have all assisted in various ways. There have been state connections as well. Teamwork can make a difference.
New Pathways’ staff of four, under the leadership of Executive Director Mary Westland, has kept the work of their two key programs serving the homeless “in action”. All have remained healthy, and taken turns working from various locations. The two case managers are continuing to assist families with future life action plans, with the support of the administrative assistant.
Though the program has had to cut back on how many are served, they do have a waiting list. And some families have been able to transition out of the programs. The three families being served right now are housed temporarily in safe “single space sheltering” at motels, with the assistance of various short-term funding sources.
Steps have also been taken to keep their clients healthy. Deep cleaning is happening at the day center, and repairs have also been possible during this social isolation time. This will enable families to use this facility in future months. The staff also hopes to be able to go back to the sleeping accommodations at various churches, as that becomes a safe option. Affordable rental apartments as ongoing single-space units are also being considered.
According to Westland, the board continues to meet on a regular basis, and assist with monitoring finances for good accountability, brainstorming new ideas with the staff, offering guidance, helping with strategic planning, and much more, including applying for grant monies to continue to support their mission.
Volunteers are assisting in various ways, as well. They prepare and deliver food, along with food/gift cards for the families. Local churches and their volunteers have also donated to the extra costs of sheltering right now. And they also offer encouragements and prayers.
Awaiting a return to normal
Many of the participating churches are patiently waiting, on standby, until 2021, when there may be safe ways to return to offering overnight space for shelters. Prior to the pandemic, area churches would rotate housing families overnight, providing them with a dinner and breakfast the next day, plus private sleeping accommodations with a curfew to help ensure children quiet time for sleeping. Several of the churches also offer activities families can participate in.
In the past fiscal year, from June 2019-June 2020, New Pathways has served 22 families, which included 30 adults and 51 children. 78% secured permanent housing at the time of exiting the shelter program. Comments from past families express their gratefulness:
Former guest - single Mom with son-
“I had a really good job, and out of the blue I was laid off...My son and I stayed in my truck for a couple weeks during the coldest time of the winter ..( at New Pathways) I got all the support that everybody deserves ...I felt all of a sudden that I had a family...”
Single Dad of three - on moving day -
“We’re actually going to miss it. We haven’t felt safe like we do here in four years. “
A focus on moving forward safely, in new and creative ways, is on the minds of all that are involved with New Pathways. With continued teamwork, that is a reachable goal for next year. This non-profit just celebrating 20 years of service to homeless families in September.
“We hope we can persevere through this challenging time, and continue to serve families in need for 20 more years,” said Westland.