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Getting Homeless Families Off the Streets in the Age of Social Distancing

Facilities Manager Kurt Larson poses with a little keepsake given to him by one of the children in our transitional housing program.

Magic happens when kids coming directly out of homelessness first arrive in an Attain Housing apartment. It happened recently when Carmen and her kids moved from their car to one of our 37 transitional housing apartment homes. On lease-signing day, the kids bounded through the apartment playing hide-n-seek. The joy of that moment is fuel for all of us at Attain Housing, including Facilities Manager Kurt Larson.

Among Kurt’s duties is getting apartments ready for families like Carmen’s. We call it the “turnover” process and it’s something that Kurt takes great pride in continuously refining and improving.

“The goal is to always be thinking of ways to improve the turnover process and find ways to make a better living space while saving money for the organization,” Kurt said. “This is accomplished by using more robust materials that will last longer, replacing or eliminating unreliable equipment, and modernizing appliances and fixtures. Money will be saved in the short and long term for both the tenant and for Attain Housing, as well.”

The COVID-19 crisis has caused some changes to the turnover process. Trips to Home Depot have been almost entirely eliminated in favor of ordering all supplies and materials online. Any significant projects requiring contractors means ensuring there is only one or two people working in a unit at any given time. Kurt said it’s all a matter of careful planning.

The screening and lease signing processes have evolved due to social distancing, as well. Screening interviews are now done via Zoom video conferencing or conference calls with our Case Managers instead of in person at our office. Once a family is approved, the lease signing process and walk-through is done at the apartment. Case Manager Megan Gililland describes her most recent lease signing with a family of five.

“The family went in first to walk around and check it out while I waited outside,” Megan said. “I could hear all three kids yelling and going ‘Wow, it’s a real place! This is awesome!’ Then I had everyone step out. The father waited in the car with the kids and I did the lease signing with the mother via computer, and I handed over the keys. It was actually faster than usual!”

Our Program Services Manager Greg McLeod said he wants our supporters to know that we’re working hard during this time to get people off the streets, in spite of COVID-19.

“It’s not lost on us that lots of families out there still need us, and that’s why we’re considered essential,” Greg said. “Kurt and our whole team have been doing an awesome job getting turnovers done on time given the circumstances.”

The goal of the facilities team is to get a unit ready for a new family in two weeks or less.

“The objective is to provide a fully functional and reliable unit that the client family will feel comfortable in, take pride in, and will be interested in taking care of,” Kurt said.

Previously homeless families make these apartments their homes for up to two years while working with our Case Managers on rebuilding their lives and planning out their next steps to secure long-term, permanent housing when they leave our program. Some families enter our housing program after living in a shelter or, as in Carmen’s case, living their car for many months. Others are single mothers with small children fleeing a domestic violence situation. And for immigrant families new to the country, our housing might be the first place they’ve felt safe in a long time. No matter where a family comes from, the feeling of a new home often results in both excitement and major relief.

“What strikes me the most is how happy the children are for finally having a place with all ‘the stuff’ they say, like bathrooms, bedrooms, refrigerators, and lights, and knowing they will no longer be living in a car or a shelter,” Kurt said. “And also knowing what role the team and I had in helping to make it happen.”