Housing Counselors: Joining The Ranks Of First Responders

Just Economy Conference – May 13, 2021


If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the housing counseling field anything, it is that the show must go on. Essentially overnight, counseling agencies had to transition to virtual operating space to continue to serve clients as consumers faced financial uncertainty amidst an international health crisis. Housing counselors have joined the class of First Responders tasked with triaging clients through urgent circumstances to avoid loss of housing, access emergency assistance, and advocate for resources to meet the needs of their respective communities. Attendees of this session will hear from housing counseling professionals who worked on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Ibijoke Akinbowale, Director of Housing Counseling Network, NCRC
  • Sandra Pearson, President and CEO, Habitat for Humanity Michigan
  • Bill Winston, Chief Administrative Officer, Manna
  • Belinda Hill, Homelessness Housing Counseling, Washington D.C.


NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity. 


Akinbowale, 00:04 

Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to today’s def economy session. My name is Ed jokey kembali and I am the director of our housing counseling network here at ncrc. I am thrilled to bring you today’s panel as we look at housing counselors as they joined the line of first responders as we all respond and hopefully eventually moved to the market recovery for the covid 19 pandemic. Today, I’m proud to be joined by none other than the folks that do this work on the ground in their respective community and three members of our affiliate program here at ncrc. Today we’ll hear from Sandra Pearson from the habitat for humanity of Michigan, Bill Winston from Manta DC, and Belinda hill with solo poroy in Puerto Rico. Today’s presentation, I hope to highlight not only the fantastic work that these organizations are doing, and I assure you I’m not biased because they’re intermediary members. But it’s some of the most exceptional work that I’ve seen in direct response to helping not only the counseling community but consumers respond around the economic need from rental issues to forbearance, and even the spike in interest in pre purchase. A lot of the housing counseling community has had to be quick in the response to delivering services, moving to remote online platforms, some also being very community based and knocking door to door. And so today we’ll have the opportunity to learn from some of the fields brightest and more innovative groups as about what their approaches have been to addressing the pandemic what the failures and some of the learning and insight as we now are more than one year into the ongoing pandemic. So a bit of our about our presenters. Sandra Pearson is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity of Michigan, supporting a network of 50 affiliates and resource. Sandy began her career in housing with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority where she spent 16 years working in civil rights, fair housing and all federally funded programs and co writing the section eight Housing Choice Voucher key to own home ownership program. Bill Winston is the CEO of manage DC has 25 years of experience of executive experience in the nonprofit community. He has worked with several organizations in the planning and implementation of fundraising programs and in the areas of volunteer management, event management and executive and program director searches. Bill has worked with the Catholic Episcopal parishes community based organization and so full service agencies. Then finally, Belinda Hill is a substance abuse advocate. She initially dedicated herself to help underprivileged women gain access to treatment and recovery programs. Now today, Belinda has founded solo poroy. Back in January of 2009, or the English version of that just for today, a peer to peer based organization dedicated to assisting the most vulnerable individuals suffering from substance abuse while being homeless as a result of its successful peer to peer approach. So the poor boy has received tremendous growth opportunities, and is currently operating six programs and serving approximately 3000 individuals and family facing homelessness and poverty. So I’m really happy today to turn this presentation over to Sandra Pearson. 


Pearson, 03:45 

Beach, okay, thank you so much for having me here to share and to learn from one another. And we value our partnership with ncrc. So very much, like you mentioned, I get 30 years and this work. And it feels like all of those years were used in preparation for a pandemic. And, and I’m going to be talking from a small business perspective, throughout much of my 10 minutes here of speaking, Habitat for Humanity of Michigan is a unique organization. When you think about Habitat for Humanity, we were one of the first and most successful Habitat for Humanity, affiliate support organizations in the US, we believe that every man, woman and child should have a safe and affordable home and we partner with our 50 local Habitat for Humanity offices throughout the state, to help them reach their maximum sustainable capacity and be able to respond to the needs in their respective communities. We support them with development of their leadership procedures, research resources, you know, we do fundraising advocacy, we do more advocacy than we ever have. And we operate a few lines of business. So if I could give you a little bit of history about about that. And next slide, please. The here’s what I was just discussing. And you’ll see there are four lines of businesses that we currently have. And it really was in about 2016 that we put that small business hat on, and really moved from operating government programs, primarily government programs only into tracking and and really embracing these four lines of business of affiliate collaboratives, housing counseling, and education, lending and real estate development. And we look at each one of those in terms of you know, their cost, and their return on investment of impact. And all the business operational pieces that go behind that. And of course, the impact is what keeps us going. Next slide, please. So our history with establishing financial coach lane, I, as was mentioned, I’ve always worked in, I’ve really valued opportunities to own homes, but know that there’s a path and a journey to get there when we meet people where they’re at, either in homeless or rental situations, and then establishing those financial goals that they set and working in partnership. And sometimes one of those goals is becoming a homeowner. And back in 2014 or so, actually a little prior to that soon after we became chartered with neighborworks, which is also a very unique for Habitat for Humanity. We, the affiliate spoke to us when I go out annually and say what would you like your state support organization to help you with? And overwhelmingly it was we need qualified families. And I said what are you doing to help them get qualified and that’s what started our journey of becoming counselors and having a financial coaching network. Next slide, please. We operate with our affiliates in in various ways. We either do the coaching and counseling with them for them. We train them up for them to do the counseling themselves, which we do have five affiliates with a dedicated resource and staff who either are HUD certified or will be HUD certified and we have certified counselors and our staff is well to cover We’re in 64 counties now of Michigan’s 83 counties. And we’re able to provide coverage where there is no local habitat office as well. And we these are the the counseling services that we offer which include all of the counseling services with the exception The reverse mortgage counseling but that is on our radar to to proceed with in the future as we build capacity. And again with our history our history has evolved from in 2014, our office counseled about 15 people. And today that number is upwards of over 400 during a pandemic period, and we’re looking at 800 individuals in our programs next year. And that is over and above what the affiliates are doing as well. So we really focused in this area. Next slide, please. The additional programs and services that we offer that we’re really proud of sustainable bill building is one and, you know, the climate and environment is a priority of our administration here in Michigan, as well as the presidential administration. We’ve been working on, you know, net zero homes and in using our grant programs to incentivize the way we build in Michigan, being energy efficient, keeping money in the pockets of our families. So sustainable building has always been a core part of what we do. We offer program operations for a downpayment assistance program, which is up to 12,000 per household who qualify from our Michigan State Housing Development Authority. We have a priority Home Repair program, again, it’s getting it this is starting to get attention all over state in May in a little bit even nationally in that you have weatherization programs. And you have you have rebate programs from utilities. Well, in order for those to work for some households, you have to address health and safety issues first, which their program funding does not cover. And so we have utility companies in Michigan, Mischka funding this line with us and it’s proving very successful. Our prison build program is is unique as well, that we’ve been operating for years where the inmates get training, and coaching and Construction Skills, as well as financial education with their counselors. And we can proudly say at this point that it’s a proven fact that the inmates who have these jobs when they return when they are returning citizens, by the way, exceed the normal statistics of being employed, having a job and not returning to prison. Next slide, please. So what did we see during this pandemic, and it was, you know, always being focused on being a small business and sustaining a business and all the changes we made, it literally was as if we had been preparing for this situation. For a couple of years and 2019, we stopped doing a couple of operations that affiliates valued, but they were lost prepositions, and they took a lot of staff time. So we had already gone through changes like that. And then we focus very much on our and our counseling programs and our current lines of business. If the shutdown were like any other small business where we had to decide, are we going to get up and put a step forward every day, or are we going to lay off and shut down and just see what happens? We decided to keep taking a step forward. Even though the affiliates had to close close their offices and restores we convened a couple of times a week, we learned what PPP one and two were together, we applied for those loans. They really were a lifeline for us, because as we know, funder priority shifted, we weren’t necessarily considered first responders. So I love the title of the session, because we are. And I think that people with our voices together will continue to realize this, we were able to accept and distribute a lot like truckloads of PP to our affiliates throughout the state. Next slide, please. And we learned how to go back to work together. Habitat for Humanity falls under the construction development, OSHA, my OSHA regulations, so we were able to figure out how to how to continue to work, not have volunteer events, not have the fundraising events that we were having, but still be able to be responsive. And that caused us to be very collaborative, and it has built our relationships as a network. We all learn what a business continuity plan was, and we said, you know, we’re gonna stop, do what we need to do here and now, we’re going to stay healthy. We’re going to come out the other side of this together and we will thrive. There’s never been a point in time when it’s been more evident that housing. And the counseling it takes to access housing is it is health of, of people, and that we must bring a light to that. Next slide, please. So, so we did learn that we were able to be flexible. And we actually even grew in added staff Believe it or not, during this time, we’ve actually added one and we maintained added one and a half FTS, we’re hiring two more now. And it’s because we kept keeping it about the people kept keeping about being responsive to their needs to the affiliate needs in responding to community. Many of you know Sue or cheese because she’s a trainer of these programs with all of you across the nation. And she became this grant writer writing grants constantly, as well as other people on our team in response to COVID in response to new and different opportunities, and then working with our current funders to maintain funding there, which we did lose a couple that we’re hoping to bring back. But we have maintained and we are very healthy as an organization. Next slide, please. So now we’re doing way more advocacy than we ever have. The only meetings I’ve attended in person since the pandemic shutdowns have been to testify at hearings I was in yesterday. And I want to thank ncrc for being such a great partner, and helping to put a voice that we can make a difference in all of these areas, and that these are critical areas of need. Next slide, please. So our future development goals, these are the pillars that we operate under as a business. And I think the most important one here is that we remain that we focus on diversity, and who we are as a team, as a board and who we are serving, we must be dynamic, we must be able to embrace change, and always move forward and we are resilient. Next slide, please. And we’re focusing more and more on the impact of those that we serve. And being able to measure that and really know their stories, which is a beautiful thing. I mean, that’s what keeps us going.  So  also Oh, by the way, during this time, we started a business that will generate income and will be self sustained operation. And this was in response to a need from our counselors to do small dollar loan lending as an alternative to payday lending. And that program, fair lending services is the name of the company that will be the first loan product, we will become a cdfa. And we have and we will also move into all of these areas that we developed during the strategic planning process that included affiliates during this pandemic, we need to figure out how to build the housing. Because right now the costs are out of control. So that’s a business opportunity, we will continue to expand her housing counseling. During this time, we became family self sufficiency coordinators for our Michigan State Housing Development Authority. So you’ll hear a pattern and what I’m saying that we continue to evolve, take advantage of operating differently, take advantage of technology, which I don’t want to leave you without emphasizing that that we are serving doing our counseling services through technology, we already were a statewide organization. And that forced us to be even better, but we did not miss a beat. The biggest change was with our consumers filling out the paperwork and line, you know, changing our filing systems to be paperless. But all of that just forced what we already were doing in one way. And then we get better at it more intentional, more safe and secure weather technology. And we’ve continued those services. And one of the people that we hired is specifically to help people complete and walk through the the technology systems used to do their intake and so forth. That was the biggest most challenging shift for us, but we’re doing it, it’s working. And we’re getting a lot better at it. And so we’re our consumers. So with that I don’t we’ve got other panelists to hear from I’m always happy to answer questions. And we’re all in this together and I can’t thank you all enough for your partnership. And thank you NCRC 


Winston, 18:03 

Hello, I’m Bill Winston, Chief Administrative Officer at Manna. In Washington, DC, Manna was founded 40 years ago as a real estate developer of affordable housing, with the mission of ending generational poverty in the nation’s capital and the capital region, and closing the racial wealth gap. And it’s a great mission and five years into that mission, we learned that, that our clients needed services, educational and counseling to be prepared. And that’s when our pre purchase program began when we were age five, and we pioneered at the time, a model called the homebuyer club as a means of providing a longer launch window, a launch window that could be adjustable to fit the needs of the client in order to qualify and become a home buyer. Next slide, please. So as I prepared for our talk today, it seemed to me the way to think of this was in terms of successes and challenges of meeting the public health crisis, which we all have been affected by over the past year, and a quarter, year and a half. Next slide, please. So our successes, we were very fortunate in that we were already transitioning to something of a virtual world, we had gone paperless already, in terms of case management systems. And we were looking already to go to Video conferencing both educationally and just in terms of contact with clients when the pandemic struck, so we were able to finish that transition, of having video conferencing to meet the client’s needs. What we found was this was a great asset to the client, because it now took the travel time out of coming to one of our offices to meet a counselor out of the equation. And so appointments opened up and became clients became much more readily available to make an appointment. Since they didn’t have to leave their office or leave their home. They could, they could schedule it during a lunch break or, or later in the day or when it suited their schedule. And at the same time, we went at that point with our counseling staff, to flex time. And we encouraged our counselors to set their own hours, and to set those around the needs of their clients. So that it was no longer nine to five. But it could be what they felt worked for them and many selected one or two days a week to be there late night counseling time. To give clients an option to give them the opportunity to connect with them. I mentioned our pre purchase clients have always had the launch time that they needed to become homebuyers, whether that was three months or three years. But we have found that one of the impacts of the pandemic is that it takes some people even longer now, people lost jobs, people were reduced in hours, these all affected their readiness to purchase their credit standing. And, and so we were able to meet that because our program was already adjustable to meet their needs. Of course, inventory as in so many parts of the country continues to be a problem for us in the Metropolitan Washington area. And that’s especially true for the low and moderate income buyer. So when all we found it easy to adapt, and even to grow, we began to expand services. We became very aware that people were going to have needs coming out of the foreclosure moratorium and out of the eviction moratorium, and we wanted to be ready to help folks when that happened. So during the first quarter of the pandemic, we began training staff to take on other areas of services in addition to pre purchase, and those included post purchase, foreclosure forbearance, rental counseling and with eviction counseling, income verification, and downpayment assistance programs. Next slide please. So one of the great things that happened for As the pandemic sort of came upon us and the lockdown of people being at home, and teleworking was funders came to us saying, we have awarded funds for you. And we’re going to give them to you sooner than later. In other words, we’d already qualified for the grant. And rather than waiting for the grant cycle itself to kick in, they moved up the timeline for the grant cycle and made those funds available. That was the way that most of the private foundations that we work with, responded to the crisis. On the banking side, the corporate banks and their grants became very helpful as well, coming forward immediately with funding opportunities and saying, we know you need this and that you’re going to need it. We want to be sure you’re helping people that you’re doing for them everything that you can, and they came forward with funding at that point. And that certainly was a great help to us. I mentioned the training opportunities that we engaged in for our staff. And those had to be virtual training opportunities. And it took some time for that to be worked out. But the providers of that type of training, made that transition as well. And thankfully, again, often many times due to a bank, but sometimes, due to organizations, I can CRC as well. These training opportunities came with scholarship opportunities. So our staff was able to receive this training at literally no cost to the organization. So sometimes people will ask, I guess you’ve had a decrease in services during this time. And that really has not been the case at all. In fact, the demand has increased phone calls ringing off the hook as it were people with needs, looking for services, looking for referrals, looking for answers to questions, just looking for guidance, and direction. And so to augment that process of people being able to reach us, we realized that we were no longer out in the community, reaching people in the way that we could pre COVID and that we needed to do something different. And so we began new marketing opportunities to spread the word that we were open and available. One of the folks mentioned to us that not everybody remained open, but we did during the first months of the pandemic. And they were very grateful to learn that. So we took out ads on the radio, we took a bus ads in the community, to let people know that manna was open, and that our services were and are available to them. Next slide, please. So the challenges, of course, during this time period began with just the onset of this great crisis that we’ve all faced together. It’s a great time of confusion and uncertainty. What does this mean? What are the protocols really about? How long is this going to last? You may recall that when some of this came out, people were talking about this being a 60 day crisis or a 90 day crisis. And it took a while before people came to the realization that this was going to be much longer term than that. And so then questions surfaced. HUD, as you know, had always required in person training. For its counselors, it also required often in person appointments, would HUD approve of virtual appointments? Would it provide virtual training? or allow that I should say, and what about the funders? Would they be okay with all of this? And fortunately, those transitions came in time. And they came timely enough that we were able to expand the services as I mentioned before. One of the great areas that remains a concern for us is foreclosure syndrome. We know that people coming out of the crisis when the moratoriums and are going to be facing even more challenging, financially difficult times. And we’re concerned for them, and how best to reach them and to let them know of our services. And unfortunately, one of the things that we’ve often encountered with the foreclosure client is a tendency to want to wait too I sort of hope that things will go away. It I know it doesn’t sound reasonable. But think about your own experience when you’re facing something that is so challenging, so difficult, so personal, that you just don’t even want to admit that it’s there. People have told me, they didn’t even want to go to the mailbox to pick up their mail each day. Because the threat of foreclosure, the letters that were coming, was also troubling to them. And so foreclosure brings with it foreclosure paralysis, where people are really stuck. And they’re not sure what direction to go in. And they’re not even wanting to pick up the phone and call anybody to do that. And so we’ve been concerned about that that’s been a part of our marketing. It’s also been a part of our programming. One of the programs that we develop, we classify it as a post purchase program, but it’s called Don’t lose your home. And it’s meant to be an introduction to the issues of foreclosure, loan modification, and how to prevent foreclosure. What are the options? What are the tools that are available to do that? Another challenge that we faced here during the crisis was, we had the opportunity to expand the staff, and to bring on two additional counselors will conducting interviews, and the hiring, and onboarding, and then training new hires remotely, was something we had no real experience in. And it is challenging, it’s very difficult. Fortunately, we made it through that process. And we have some great staff persons who joined us as a result of that. But it wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always easy for them, or for us to learn about our processes and our procedures, how we do things, what is our case management system? Like? What what are our, our methods of helping the client? So it posed a great challenge. It’s one that we feel that we’ve met, but it’s certainly one that we look forward to in the future of not having to deal with in terms of remote onboarding and training. Next slide, please. So one of the things that I’ve thought about as we thought about hiring and bringing on staff was the experience that we had in reaching and finding the right talent pool to hire. It’s not as if there’s a talent pool of readymade counselors in the job market, let alone HUD certified counselors in the job market. I wish there were, but it’s it’s not often the case, we would advertise for positions. We often got responses from property managers, real estate agents, in some cases, health care case management workers. And as we began to talk to folks, they, we realized that they didn’t really understand the nature of the type of work that we would be doing. And therefore, this wasn’t the right job for them, which was fine. But it does bring up this question of, how will we as agencies going forward even post pandemic, have the pool of talent that we need? Even the raw talent to be trained and to be shaped into counselors, HUD certified? How will we have that going forward? In the future, I think it’s something of a challenge for our industry. I mentioned how the incoming phone calls increased. And one of the things that we did do right away, in addition to the video conferencing was enabling our phones to be forwarded properly, to the respective counselor, and having a funnel through which those calls were triage when they came in, so they got to the right place. And that was certainly greatly necessary with the numbers of calls that were then coming. But the other thing that was necessary was to know what were the services that were available and the resources available in the community? And what were the kinds of referrals that we could make. So we had to have staff spending a great deal of time researching those questions, finding those resources, identifying agencies that can handle referrals for areas that are not in our We all have to deal with. And ultimately, we ended up having each of the counselors specialize in one of those areas, in order to assist clients with their needs, and get connected to the appropriate services. There were a few tools that came out at that time, which were very helpful. So those were generally speaking, online dashboards that had ready made sort of information about agencies that dealt with particular types of problems. So a counselor could enter a type of problem into the dashboard. And say it was rental assistance or utility assistance. And the local agencies that dealt with that would be there on the dashboard for the counselor to use as referrals. But it still took a great deal of just research on our own park to find those things. Lastly, I would say that one of the challenges of this time period is that well, virtual appointments, and virtual classes, we’ve had great success in both areas. Well, those open up new opportunities for us in the future. They’ve allowed us to expand our geographical base even further, we just realized that in person appointments have benefits. And that video doesn’t altogether, replace that or equal it. Next slide, please. So as we face an uncertain future, we feel that we’ve met the challenges. we’re optimistic about what’s coming, like many we’re looking for a return to some kind of normalcy. But the question still has to be what what can we retain of what we have learned and use going forward to help our clients. And I’m thinking in particular of the things that cut down on travel time, that allow clients to access services, even from their workplace when they have a break, or when they can schedule one. Things that allow them to avoid having to take a whole day off from work in order to come into the office for a 45 minute appointment with their counselor. So it’s going to be a balancing act, I would say going forward between maintaining something of the virtual world, but having enough in person that the human connection is still there. And the relationship between counselor and client is still built. And I think speaking of that human connection, we owe a great, thank you to all of our housing counselors. They truly have been first responders, in my opinion. There were great tasks and need. And they have stepped up often, as I say, changing their hours to make them what works best for the client. That concludes my presentation. I look forward to talking with you later. 


Hill, 36:30 

Hi, good afternoon. Thank you for having me. I am in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most of what I do is homelessness. And I became our office became a housing counseling office accidentally. Because our consistency of viewing discrimination towards the homeless population, particularly those with mental illness. We wanted to become a fair housing office. And we at that time a few years back thought we had to be the housing counseling office in order to be a fair housing offer. So in the lessons learned, it resulted to be very rewarding to be a housing counseling office. At the same time we also became a a fifth or a fair housing initiative program. We have seen during the pandemic a tremendous barriers, new barriers for us. We are accustomed to facing difficulty. We are accustomed to survey people that are in crisis all the time. So that part is not new to us. And fortunately for us, we faced hurricane Maria in 2017, which we thought we were prepared for I found out where all of our gaps were looking to the future and looking to serve those most vulnerable families on the island. homeless people continue to be homeless during any disaster so that you know of utmost importance to understand that once a disaster come steps is present, then we have to double up our efforts in trying to make sure that they are safe that they are fed that they have access to housing, access to shelter, and access to services. Next slide, please. So what we found throughout the years is that if we don’t have partners, we can’t really cover all the bases. For the last 10 years, we have always collaborated, it’s very hard to work. And think that as much as you are passionate about serving a population, you can’t, you can’t go at it alone. So we are members of continuum of care pr 502, which is the homeless funding from HUD, we are a member the continuum of care pr 502 encompasses 24 municipalities in the northern region of Puerto Rico and houses approximately 6000 homeless families and homeless projects and serves an additional 3000 families that live on the street. Through the coordinated entry, we are the the the We Are the connection, right? Previously, a homeless person would have to jump from project to project to project and get denied access to services, now they come to our office or call our office, they get interviewed, we try to determine what is their most immediate need. And we provide that particular service, we have been able to do that through private funding our HUD funding. We’ve had Puerto Rico Community Foundation, as well as largest foundations in Puerto Rico that has supported homelessness. we generated agreements from the Department of Health, we have path on board, we have created a desk for them right within our office. So we have a path employee come to our office every day, and help us in assessing needs for the homeless population. And then our most recent membership is we’ve joined ncrc, we’ve been with them for approximately a year. And it has been tremendously helpful. Our goal at this time is to increase our homeless or our homeless services in relation and with regard to housing counseling, right. So understanding their finances, sometimes homeless people don’t even understand that purchasing a home is a possibility. And so a little bit about teaching them about their finances, even. Even if it is I’m generating a budget, right? It’s something as simple as that is helping them understand that their food stamps count that their medical services count, that they can generate a small income that they can’t get qualified to file taxes and receive benefits for those efforts. So that’s in the direction that we’re moving right now with regard to our homeless population. Next slide, please. So what we’ve learned from dealing with homelessness is the relationship between homelessness and mental illness, which now in the middle of the pandemic, we have a whole new homeless population, and we have people at risk of losing their home. And the one key that we have seen and I’m sure you could all possibly share this is the rise in mental illness, right? People that are used to going out and about and now are confined to being at home and it becomes very difficult. young mothers with children at home alone, husband and wife without, you know, the financial resources they had in the past, falling behind on their rent, even though there’s a moratorium there, they get harassed by the landlords. So we see a lot of mental illness. And we have seen a spike in people eligible to homeless services.  Next slide, please. So what has changed for us? We have never stopped offering in person services. Right. When Maria hit Puerto Rico, we immediately stepped out and try to assess damages and even our homeless projects were affected. So people from our homeless projects were moved to emergency shelters run by the government, and it made it extremely hard. So we figured out that we previously used our mobile unit which is in the photograph on the top to impact hard to reach places we would provide all of our services, case management, hygiene, case management or any other service the person needed kind of connectivity on from that unit. So in in that sounds that had helped us having the unit prior to Maria helped us put it out there right after Maria and identify areas where people couldn’t reach shelters and were doubled up or were in public schools and public places in order to get them place. And we joined an effort with HUD mo local Department of Housing to place people that even if they were home owners, they in fact, were homeless, they couldn’t go back home. And we we took up all the inventory and I memorandum of understanding with public housing any available unit so that people did not have to stay congregated in shelters with their families. So with COVID, what has changed predominantly the way we do business, right, so we still go out there, we can’t take our trailer out, it’s enclosed. It’s a higher risk you’re talking about, not more than eight feet wide on the inside with air conditioners circulating the same air. So we immediately moved to pop up locations, tents. And this has been very successful, we have managed to become very, very successful. We go out weekly. early next month, we will start with bi weekly pop up tents. And we provide information on vaccine on using protective equipment, keeping your mask on and we have been funded in order to do testing. Right, so now we’re doing the antigen testing, we do approximately 100 tests per pop up station. And we do that in order to reduce barriers. It is very sad that a lot of projects have funding to serve homeless population and to house them temporarily or permanently. And they are not allowing people to come off the street into their programs because they want them to have a negative COVID test. So we are utilizing this system. We have received private funding to allow us to pay for the testing for the antigen testing as a measure to reduce barriers for our homeless population. Next slide, please. This is Jose This is a small clip that I presented. This was immediately after this is an in early May 2020. And it was I think our second pop up location where we did. It was about 102 rapid tests for our homeless people that were living in a specific area that’s very dense and that has a high homeless community. I think the clip is there. Maybe somebody can play it in a little bit. But what we have resorted to is the media right so we have used the media in order to get the information out there that holiday people are deserving of services are deserving of getting vaccinated are deserving of getting placed and they need to be served. Next slide please. So since the pandemic initiated, we are looking at data from February 15 onward, and we have served 1505 families of them 12 101 have received rapid testing 515 are still out on the street. The ones that have been have allowed us to interview them 51 have been connected to rental assistance. And connecting people to rental assistance is a way of us using our housing counseling skills in order to improve so that they they’re not just housed temporarily, but so that we can establish long term goals for them and they do not return to homelessness. 110 are in the emergency shelters 282 have gone to transitional housing. Our transitional housing locally are called recovery housing, which means they all offer some form of treatment either for mental health or for substance abuse or both. 32 we’ve reconnected with family members 17 moved in with friends 356 went to our permanent supportive housing programs, which means our occupancy and permanent supportive housing is at 96%. But 4% that’s not being used at this time as either under construction repairs are unavailable for some other reason. We have produced generated new Rapid Rehousing vouchers, the continuum of care only has 75 Rapid Rehousing vouchers, we generated an additional 58. We’re waiting right now with the ESG CB funding to have additional vouchers available for our clients 52 clients, we assisted them in making sure that they were eligible to Social Security or social security income, and we’re able to generate for them to rent in a senior facility or on their own. In addition to that, we refer people to detox hub well, and Housing Choice vouchers. Next slide, please. So in our activities, um, one of the things we did really quick was we became we got involved in the food box for families, and we distributed 450,000 pounds of food from May through September of 2020. program has ended in Puerto Rico, we’re hopeful it will come back and we can do that. Again. We have distributed PP food distribution, testing, case management, detox, housing, referrals, and transportation. All of these are in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID so that our people that we serve, come off the street, and people facing homelessness do not end up on the street. Next slide, please. So the barriers we have faced, in spite of all of our efforts is that we have a very low inventory we just saw notice that came out from HUD unfortunately, 77,000 units are going to open up scattered site emergency vouchers, Puerto Rico will be rewarded with a little more than 400 of those 70,000, which should improve our circumstances with the lack of inventory. The mental health services on the island are to be desired for they’re really not available, the lack of medical coverage or appropriate treatment for our clients. There. Luckily, there is no policy in place from the jurisdiction to attend the homeless situation. And that puts the entire responsibility of homelessness on continuum of cares. On the island. One of the largest things we’ve faced is housing discrimination. We are in the process of filing complaints and submitting them to the field office. And the biggest one we see is discrimination towards the homeless population and at risk population with mental illness. An example of that is when we refer somebody someone to a service, the response will be they have too much mental health. Well, what does that mean, exactly? What is too much mental health. So that those are some of the barriers and challenges we face on a daily basis. Next slide, please. These are, I am consistently going to the press. Fortunately, I found one reporter that tends to follow me and will call me once a month and write to me and asked me where everything’s at. Um, I don’t know how familiar you familiar you are with ESG CB, which is emergency solutions. COVID funding, Puerto Rico was awarded $27 million on April 7 of 2020. The first contracts were received last week. So for a year, the $27 million out there and homeless people stayed on the street. And little or nothing was done in order to generate housing, generate medical services and generate transportation. So I’m hopeful that will start moving on that people get housed quickly, and without any barrier or discrimination. But for me, the the mechanism is the press. So it’s what we use. We consistently allow ourselves to be interviewed, sometimes just a little bit afraid of having retaliation from the government agencies that were critical of, but we continue to advocate for justice, particularly for those in poverty. Whether it’s what the the most amazing thing for us providing services is that we’re in Puerto Rico, a 12 year old can get vaccinated and a homeless person that has not been vaccinated. So that’s a very tough day for the homeless population. Next slide, please. I think that’s the last slide. Yeah. So what we need is more community engagement education to reduce discrimination We use best practice bottles up recovery, more diversion, compassion and willingness to change. On the bottom are the links to both articles that I make reference to them. They can. The only one we had agreed to show was the one that’s up on the screen if you want to see it, that’s a full interview where the homeless population expresses the need to use protective equipment. So thank you all. 


Akinbowale, 53:35 

Wonderful. Thank you, Belinda. And thank you to all of the panelists here. You know, I mentioned housing counseling is not traditionally seen as a method of first response. And, you know, this pandemic has really worsen the economy’s already ripening issues. I mean, we were already in an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic started worsened in a number of communities. And so I think folks underestimated our field and how critically important it is to be flexible, not only to the clients that you’re seeing, but be flexible to the funders needs. And I’m really proud, as you know, your parent organization to say that each of your agencies have done a fantastic example of that. And so as we get prepared to close, you know, I’ll ask if anyone has any questions, they can certainly place it in the chat here. But one, one thing that I will say, we’ve been in the pandemic, far longer than we anticipated, I think it was bill that mentioned, folks initially thought it would only be 60 days and we’re over it, we’re over the year mark. We’re making significant strides under the Biden administration, in terms of vaccinations and getting those numbers to steadily decline. But we are not out of the woods just yet. And so I’m wondering if there are any final remarks from all of you in terms of recommendations as we continue to help consumers respond to the ongoing pandemic. And also, I’ll also include in that conversation, the response to the pandemic and the decline or some of the challenges and homeownership, as it’s really has pushed us in to significantly high cost cash market. And so I welcome any final comments from from all of the panelists on those remarks. Sandy, you want to go? 


Pearson, 55:46 

I’ll just reiterate that, you know, housing equals health equals jobs equals strong communities, schools, it’s everybody deserves a place to live that they can afford. The counseling network is a huge part of making that happen. And it does, it feels like we are we’ve regressed and at the same time, there’s more a different opportunity than ever, and we just have to keep moving forward and keep having these conversations. 


Winston, 56:19 

I think that’s very true. And I think, as you mentioned, the cash that’s in the market and how it’s driven the market, it seems to me that it isn’t going to be possible to have affordable homeownership opportunities without the government having a role in that. And so it really is going to require, you know, state and federal government to be players in that area. For all the reasons that Sandra mentioned. You know, we know that homeownership is tied to all of these positive outcomes, right, you know, decrease in crime, increase in high school education, increase in civic participation, increase in voting, you know, all the correlations are there. So it is the right medicine, for a society that is looking to stabilize itself, improve the quality of life, and, and sort of move things forward for everyone concerned because it’s in everyone’s interest is not just in the interest of a few. It’s in everyone’s interest that this happened. 


Pearson, 57:39 

Amen. And we’re, we’re having less opportunity to own homes because of the cost. The government has to have a strategy that is inclusive of owning homes or we’re playing, we’re gonna keep going in the wrong direction. I’m all for rental, but move people along the continuum as they can to really have transformational change and have their personal impact. Not on home ownership. 


Winston, 58:05 

So here’s here’s on that point, Sandra, which is very valid. What you’re saying, here’s a very, should be a very startling statistic to us. homeownership in the nation has been dropping for the past 13 years. Now in terms of acquisition of equity and wealth, what are the avenues that are open to people, the stock market, not really an option entrepreneurial ship, only for a few savings, that’s as something’s left in the paycheck once you get your bills paid. So homeownership has been the traditional way in America for that to happen. So it’s it’s the only way to address things like the racial wealth gap, as well as to stabilize the society as a whole. 


Akinbowale, 58:53 

I can give Belinda the opportunity to chime in as well. Your muted Belinda. 


Hill, 59:04 

I wanted to say that I agree with Sandy by and by the way, our most formal training that we got on emergency response was with NCRC way prior for me of me being a member, and Sue was one of the trainers, which is who I met. And I was able to call her when we started this housing counseling strategy. And locally, people don’t like to share what they have. And I couldn’t get one local housing counseling agency to help me out and say, so you say this, or you do that in continuum of care, everybody, you cannot speak to somebody and you will send off whatever they’re looking for. So Sue was very helpful on for that I’m very thankful. And I have my certificate, and I, you know, tend to go to the continuum and say, Well, I’m certified, you know, with, with disaster, so and I’m ready. And we implemented a lot of the things that she taught us, right, so our emergency strategy has changed. So where we move and what we take with us and how we do it has allowed us to continue and the equipment we we purchased after that training is what allowed us to go out in the field and do the pop ups everywhere. So for that I’m thankful. The second thing is that rental assistance for me as the beginning of the continuum for people to get house right for the population ICER to open their eyes to the possibility. So we know HUD has pushed very hard in the homeless environment, housing first. And people say, Well, you know, if they have these conditions, or that conditions are they, they can’t even keep care, take care of themselves. But truth be told, we know that people are flourish better when they’re housed. And we have demonstrated that we did a pilot program, and we house 10 people that were chronically homeless with substance abuse, and probably about six years ago, and eight were permanently housed, and still are. So the success rate when you think about it is the odds are good. So the next step is to move towards affordable housing through home or some other initiative that will allow people to dream about purchasing a home. 


Akinbowale, 1:01:17 

Thank you for that comment. Belinda and I just wanted to share, you know, these organizations that have joined us today, again, I really do think they’re they’re some of the brightest minds are networking really are doing innovative things. I know they shared their contact information. But I do also encourage you all to continue to lean on the network or the resources here within the housing counseling team at NCR see as we continue our ongoing response to the pandemic. And so I want to thank you all for all the work that you do in your respective communities. And don’t hesitate to count on a team but thank you for participating in today’s just economy session. 


Pearson, 1:02:00 

Thank you. 


Hill, 1:02:00 

Thank you. Thanks for the shout out. 

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