April 10, 2020

People Serving People’s Senior Leadership Team sent an email to our entire staff about our pandemic plan on Friday, March 13. In the email we outlined our values and priorities for the weeks and the work ahead of us. We indicated that our top priority is the health and safety of our staff – so they can keep showing up to ensure the health and safety of our families – to continue the critical shelter and supports we provide at People Serving People. We outlined that we want to empower staff and supervisors to plan and make decisions that promote health, safety, and continuity of services for themselves and the people in their lives.

close-up of little boy

Circumstances change, but not our values

It’s been more than three weeks since we shared that message and nearly every day since, we have been making decisions and changes to try to stay true to these values and priorities. People Serving People’s incredible, hard-working team continues to show up in all the ways they can and will continue to through the duration of this pandemic. We are committed to our families and community. Not only are we striving to keep our shelter and Center of Excellence open to serve our families, we are also activating our organizational strengths to respond to the broader community’s needs. We are offering child care for children of essential workers at our Center of Excellence Preschool and Learning Center. We are prioritizing spaces for children of healthcare, emergency, and critical or essential sector workers. We continue to provide child care for previously enrolled families who risk the loss of their employment without child care.

2 photos - staff delivering mealsWe are working to reduce the spread of the virus

In an attempt to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and the risk to our families and staff, things have been different at People Serving People these past few weeks, and they will continue to change. All door handles, elevator buttons, and stair rails are cleaned three times a day. In order to promote social distancing, the dining hall, playground, and family lounges are closed. We have temporarily suspended Family Support Services Groups, the Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic has a new procedure, there are less children in the Early Child Development Program, and our front-line staff are wearing gloves – some are wearing masks. We are delivering meals to guest rooms and providing more health information to families. All of these changes are to protect our families and our staff.

father holding infant

Our families are struggling with the isolation

While the changes we are making to our operations are necessary to protect our guests and staff, they are also hard. We all crave relationship and connection – it’s hard when you can’t hug someone or give them a high-five, especially in the midst of something difficult. We’re starting to observe stress and trauma responses amongst families who are doing their best to cope with these difficult days. Our staff are responding with trauma informed care, smarts, and compassion, and our Family Support Services Advocate team continues to work with and support families one-on-one.

COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting our families

We recognize how the pandemic will impact communities of color with the least financial resources and the least access to truly affordable and stable housing. Coronavirus is devastating African American and Native American communities across the country. From New Orleans, Detroit, and Milwaukee communities of color are harder hit by this virus – further exposing the health disparities caused by systemic racism and inequity. According to Insight News, just next door in Wisconsin, as of March 27, “of the state’s 14 COVID-19 deaths, eight of the victims were Black. That’s 57 percent of all Wisconsin deaths in a state where the Black population is just 6.7 percent.” Many in these communities – broadly and at People Serving People – have underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for serious complications from COVID-19. We recognize that the communities we serve will likely be the hardest hit.

We are showing up for one another

This is uncharted territory for our organization – living through a global pandemic and working with families experiencing homelessness. While I struggle to see all of the lessons that this pandemic will teach us, what it has already reinforced for me is our inextricable interconnectedness – globally and locally – and that we belong to one another and must show up for one another in difficult and joyous times.

When those with the greatest barriers do well, we all do well. Thank you for your support and for recognizing your role in keeping our entire community healthy.

Rinal Ray, Interim Executive Director

Rinal Ray