May 06“Home is Where You Have Peace”
Now, more than ever, a stable home is essential to a healthy life. So many people have experienced sickness, stress, and job loss due to the pandemic. It’s made it hard to know what tomorrow holds while the foundations of our daily lives have been uprooted. Challenges like these are what many families living with low incomes were experiencing long before COVID, and the virus has only compounded these problems for people living in poverty.
Meeting the Need
Lithonia, Georgia, is a suburb of Atlanta that has a median household income of $36,705 per year and a 37.1% poverty rate, according to DataUSA. Mercy Housing Southeast has two family communities there, meeting the need for affordable homes — The Hills at Fairington and Terraces at Parkview. These homes are far more than just four walls and a roof because we offer onsite Resident Services programming — services like Out-of-School time, health and wellness classes, continuing education for adults, and so much more. Resident Services staff listen, learn, and grow together with the community. They make Mercy Housing a welcoming place to call home, connecting residents to resources and opportunities. Along the way, they build irreplaceable bonds sharing memories and support.
Dre is the Resident Services Manager for The Hills at Fairington and Terraces at Parkview. The two communities collectively serve 1,100 residents, including around 500 children and many seniors too. When COVID struck Lithonia, job loss and income reduction drastically affected these families. During those early days, when everyone was still coming to terms with the virus, stress was running high, “I tried to keep myself positive and kept my team positive, and sometimes we had to just, you know, take a break and go into mindfulness just to not get stressed,” Dre says. As residents got laid off, a domino effect began hurting their access to food, healthcare, and a lot of necessities. When asked about the impact of COVID on residents’ incomes Dre says, “It was very significant. We [Mercy Housing] were able to get some funding for rental assistance programs … The problem [loss of income] persists, so we’re still trying to connect residents to what they need.”
Over the years Dre has gotten to know families well, and this was instrumental to his team’s success transforming their services practically overnight because of COVID. Using the Remind app and texts, he and his Resident Services Coordinators reach out to residents to check on them and offer a shoulder to cry on when things are tough. Dre says, “With seniors, we’ve done a lot of wellness calls and wellbeing checks… It often goes into some deep discussion about life because you know a lot of them haven’t [since COVID] had anyone to talk to … That’s the kind of reward, when they say, ‘thank you’… that’s one of the biggest things when they show their appreciation for the work that we do.”
Seniors and residents with chronic health issues have been particularly impacted with limited mobility due to the risk of infection. Dre became even more familiar with different organizations in the community to get residents the assistance they needed. “We had to be the boots on the ground to make sure that they were taken care of. Those things made me really appreciate my job.”
Housing is Healthcare
Job is a Resident Services Coordinator on Dre’s team, serving both The Hills at Fairington and Terraces at Parkview too. They continue to work to keep residents connected to CDC updates, unemployment resources, and healthcare support. Partnerships have been essential to success. Mercy Housing Southeast collaborates with Georgia Piedmont Technical College to offer job training and GED programs, while Goodwill connects residents to job opportunities. Food delivery and virtual learning have been a big focus as well. Students get lunch and breakfast part of the year, and Dre and Job work with the Atlanta Food Bank to make that happen. When some residents got COVID, they supported them through grocery drop-offs and more routine check-in calls. This is particularly tough because families are so isolated when they have to quarantine. Dre believes that ensuring that families are stably housed is the priority and irreplaceable to their resiliency — “When I think of home, I think of safety and security, refuge, having peace and tranquility, a place to heal. I think housing is healthcare,” he adds.
Donations and grants helped the transition to virtual learning so that Mercy Housing could purchase Chromebooks and software for continuing education. Chromebooks were loaned out to support families, and if they didn’t have wifi, Dre and Job got donated hotspots for them. Mercy Housing Southeast’s first-ever virtual summer camp took place in 2020 as well. South Dekalb Improvement District and DeKalb County Virtual Village donated and loaned laptops specifically for the summer camp so that all the children that wanted to, could attend. Dre reflects, “This pandemic has helped build our character to understand that we need each other. I hope that that is brought out through these challenges, so we can always work together.”
Dre, Job, and so many Resident Services staff’s dedication to communities’ health and vibrancy is making a profound difference at a critical time. They have been incredible at growing their expertise. “I think the biggest thing is just with so much chaos and uncertainty, I feel like we’re just trying to ease the stress of residents and get them prepared for life after the pandemic too,” Job says when he thinks about the future. They believe in the power of a stable home. When Job thinks about how important a home is, he says, “To me, a home is somewhere you have peace, it’s your escape from the world, the pandemic, social unrest, and the craziness of the world, where you can recover and prepare to go out into the world the next day.” Families living with low incomes in Lithonia are getting through these trying times to pursue their dreams of brighter futures. The teamwork and resourcefulness of Resident Services make it possible for Mercy Housing to deliver on our mission with the respect, justice, and mercy that residents deserve. We will continue to evolve with the communities we serve so that they can recover from the pandemic. Breaking cycles of poverty is a long-term commitment, and that begins with a place to call home.
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