They were living in a city park.
Though no one is really sure how long they’d been there, the best guess is five months.
When the director of the City of St. Louis Continuum of Care called Humanitri about this family – a mother, father, a teen and two infant girls – the staff knew it was an urgent case.
The months of living outdoors in the summer heat had taken its toll on them all, but the children, especially the babies, were struggling. They were dehydrated and sick.
“Usually we can’t take families right of the streets,” said Cyra Lohman, executive director of Humanitri, a St. Louis nonprofit that provides transitional housing services to the homeless. “But we placed them right away and got the kids medical care.”
Though one child spent 10 days in the hospital, they were all slowly nursed back to health.
As the months have passed, the case managers at Humanitri, a 2016 Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund grantee, have been blown away at the progress the family has made since the day they first walked in the door.
The baby girls, now 11 months old, are now on target for height, weight and gross motor skills. In the second quarter, the 15-year-old made straight As in school. Mom is working 40 hours a week.
“They are thriving now,” Lohman said. “Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund – you did that.”
Since 2006, Humanitri has been helping individuals and families in crisis achieve stability, independence and dignity in a safe environment.
Though Humanitri runs two other smaller programs – an ex-offender re-entry and a jail chaplaincy – their largest effort by far is their transitional housing program for homeless individuals and families.
It is this program that has benefited from the SOS grant. The grant funds were used to support the salaries of two case managers that work with families in the transitional housing program; to purchase bus passes for the clients; and to help clients purchase furniture when they are able to move to permanent homes.
“To us it’s been a gift to elevate families from crisis and uncertainty to the stability and self-reliance that they know they have inside themselves,” Lohman said. “They just need a case manager who has walked through similar circumstances to help draw it out.”Right now, there are 95 homeless children and 43 adults living in the 25 homes Humanitri owns throughout the city. Families in transition can live in these homes for up to 24 months, though some are able to move on to self-sufficiency much sooner.
The families who come to Humanitri are all referred through either the Continuum of Care or an emergency shelter. Unlike short-term shelters, transitional housing gives individuals and families more time to get their lives back on track.
When a client is placed in a Humanitri home, case managers work closely with them to make sure they are on a path to success. The case managers perform an intake assessment, evaluating everything from the client’s job skills and mental health to the entire family’s physical health and well-being.
During the first three months of their stay, the case managers visit the client’s homes weekly. After that, visits move to every other week.
The client and case manager work together to develop an action plan for the future – a path that will lead the family out of homelessness.
Since one of the goals is always to help them find a safe, affordable and permanent home they can sustain on their own, Humanitri clients are highly encouraged to save 30 percent of their income for a down payment on a home or rental.
“The client receives action items tied to their plan to continue on a trajectory of change, whether that is counseling or behavior modifications,” Lohman said. “The intention is always that we’re addressing the behaviors or circumstances that resulted in homelessness.”
Humanitri helps clients navigate benefits, secure mental health services and find a medical “home” – clinic or doctor the client can see consistently so they don’t use the emergency room for routine health issues.
“We enter their worlds – we don’t expect clients to enter our worlds,” Lohman said. “We get on the bus line with them, go to the library with them, we use public transportation.”
They also assist clients with finding and retaining employment through community partners, and help them build the skills necessary to increase their household income. Every family must complete the strengthening families curriculum which teaches child abuse and neglect prevention best practices.
“What’s unique about our program is that we’re the only scattered-site transitional housing program for whole families in the region,” Lohman said. “There’s a lot of dignity around the scattered site model.”
The homes in Humanitri program are scattered throughout neighborhoods, and are not identified as “transitional housing” in any special way. They look like any other house on the street.
For Andrika, a mom of three, this anonymity provides a sense of dignity and hope.
“It helps you get ready for your regular housing and helps with budgeting, and saving,” she said.
Andrika is doing everything in her power to get back on her feet for the sake of her children. She leaves two hours early for work so she can take her children to daycare and ride the bus to her job in retail.
She plans to one day go back to school and obtain a permanent home for her children. She credits her Humanitri case manager with making sure she stays on track with her goals.
Story and photos by Bethany Prange of 618 Creative for Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund.