July 15, 2022
Homelessness affects families. As of 2019, 32% of those experiencing homelessness were children living with their parents, their entire family unit navigating a loss of shelter, and scarcely available public resources. This number has remained relatively stationary since 2015 and does not show signs of slowing. This is exactly where Olivia Jensen, People Incorporated’s first Street Outreach practitioner solely focusing on families, enters in on these vital services. Your gifts to People Incorporated make critical support like this possible.
Olivia’s work is primarily proactive – finding families currently experiencing homelessness or those on the brink of losing stable housing through relationships with third parties. She spent her first months at People Incorporated fostering relationships with school social workers, family shelters, housing workers, and other community partners. By building these connections, Olivia made her name and People Incorporated’s name a ready resource for families experiencing homelessness. This is what it means to be an integrated, community-based provider, the foundation of our mission.
“One of the best parts of my job is building strong relationships with families and children who don’t always have a great support system,” Olivia says. “A huge part of my work is breaking down stereotypes of those experiencing homelessness. Every human, family, and child deserves love, kindness, and respect.”
While many of our adult clients are found through direct street outreach, often through a humble offering of survival tools or supplies for basic hygiene, this strategy is not as effective for family units.
“Homeless families are much more difficult to identify. While some families may live outdoors, many more seek shelter in vehicles, or parents may house their children at a family member or friend’s house while they remain outdoors. Olivia finds most of her clients through referrals from community partners,” says Street Outreach Program Manager Dave Katzenmeyer.
As far as Dave remembers, family homelessness has always been a challenge in our communities but has grown in recent years due to the housing challenges created by the pandemic and the rising cost of living. Olivia has worked with families who have lost their jobs, fallen behind on monthly rent payments, and/or lost the ability to afford childcare. While many families experienced temporary relief from the COVID-specific eviction moratorium in MN, which lifted in October 2021, creating new issues for families struggling financially.
“I’ll get calls from people saying, ‘I’m about to be evicted,’” Olivia said. “We have a hard time finding good landlords who’ll take on these clients, landlords who will work with people with criminal records, poor rental histories, or poor credit.”
Mental health plays a major role in families experiencing homelessness. With the basic human need of shelter removed, families are not only at risk of developing a mental illness, but they risk exacerbating any preexisting mental illnesses. Olivia can direct families to the appropriate resources and programs to get well and move towards stability, and she often makes referrals to other programs within People Incorporated. The holistic nature of our many program offerings allows for seamless referrals with positive results.
Olivia has already made incredible strides in supporting families in your community. So far in 2022, she has supported 20 families. Olivia has secured stable housing for four of these families, one of them being a single-father family, which is a rarer and more difficult type of family unit to secure resources for. At any given time, she works long-term with about 15 families with 15-20 additional families on a drop-in, short-term basis.
Your support sustains Olivia’s family-focused work and allows our Street Outreach team to envision other innovative ways to reach the most vulnerable members in our community. If you are moved to support families experiencing homelessness, you can visit our giving page to invest in this critical work.