Organizations that help many people in Texas have experienced great challenges since the coronavirus outbreak started. Leaders at four nonprofits in Texas share with us what they have been through in the past month and how they are moving forward.
Bryan’s House serves children with medical or developmental needs and their families by providing specialized child care, respite care and social services. Abi Erickson-Torres, CEO at Bryan’s House in Dallas, provided some thoughts Friday morning in an email about overcoming challenges during the pandemic.
“Our greatest challenge at this time is not knowing what the future will bring. However, we are planning with optimism and robustly fundraising to ensure our teams stay in place. We’ve overcome the logistics of providing all existing services (case management, family support, online classes and therapies) to all of our families and students. Our staff and board have been very passionately committed to our continued success — that has helped immensely.”
Carl Falconer, president and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, sees how the coronavirus has affected the homeless.
The effects include “all of the changes that are taking place due to COVID-19 and how quickly the homeless service system and our providers are having to adapt to changing conditions daily,” he wrote in an email.
“The collaboration among the providers in the homeless response system and the community support and resources to help provide services to homeless individuals and families,” have helped the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance carry on during this dire time.
In Austin, Benjamin King, PhD, clinical assistant professor of Public Health, School of Human Ecology, College of Natural Sciences, at The University of Texas at Austin, sees the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations like the homeless and on the organizations that provide them help.
“Every case manager, outreach worker and staff member that I know in agencies serving those in homelessness is working long hours and weekends right now,” wrote King.
“People believe in the mission, but their hands are tied by limited resources and even fewer tests and PPE (personal protective equipment). It’s a tough situation. Agencies are still in the field trying to help and protect those with the least among us, and they could use a lot of help from the community.”
King said they desperately need philanthropic support from individuals and the business community during the pandemic.
“They need local leaders and public health to bring businesses to the table so that we can find more isolation housing for those who are sick or at high risk of dying from this virus,” he wrote.
“Finally, they need a lot more support than the funds the CARES Act is bringing (although the HUD funds will help). Studies are showing that a lot more shelter and re-housing funds will be needed to protect this community from bearing the brunt of the outbreak (similar to jails and nursing homes in many ways).”
Wayne Gerami, chief programs officer at Austin Habitat for Humanity said that donations have fallen but spirits have not.
“Our lifeblood is a combination made up of volunteers and sponsors. In accordance with state and local requirements, we have suspended volunteer groups on our construction sites and at the ReStore. As so many of our individual and corporate sponsors have been hit hard by the effects of the virus, we have also seen our donations fall.”
But technology and the federal government have helped, Gerami said.
“The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program has certainly played a big role in helping us keep the lights on and to keep all of our staff employed. Virtual technology has been another lifesaver. We continue to work with clients, have team meetings and work on housing and affordability advocacy virtually! We’ve all learned a lot over the past six weeks.”
In Houston, the mission to feed the hungry certainly doesn’t stop during the pandemic, and food banks need partners and support, especially now.
“In our aim to get more food out to people and to support laid-off or furloughed workers, our supplemental workforce has actually grown to be almost as large as our original workforce, pre-COVID-19,” said Melanie Pang, government relations officer for the Houston Food Bank.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have great partners to help us turn this challenge into new opportunities, with collaborations with other nonprofits like the YMCA of Greater Houston and with financial support from Harris County.”
“I think that, as an organization, Houston Food Bank has been humbled by the growing need, by how close to the edge of instability so many people are. Our organization has grown in a few new directions to better serve more of the population, like delivering food to people who are homebound, but we know that no matter what we do, there’s no single organization that will solve all the problems that existed before COVID-19.
“I think the future for Houston Food Bank is one in which we will be given great opportunities to provide more nutritious food to more people because of our amazing partners, and we will also have an enormous responsibility to work with communities to shape a future together. Long-lasting change will take a shift in the way our government, economy and society engages with one another, and I’m hopeful that we can play a part in creating change which helps people improve their lives.”
Want to pitch in? Here are some Texas nonprofits you can help during this uncertain time. We may be physically apart, but compassion and whatever support you can offer matter.