A Church-Based Approach to Ending Family Homelessness

Strangers to Neighbors: The Top Changes to the Bridge of Hope Program

The Bridge of Hope Network is changing its language from “mentoring” to “Neighboring.” But our language isn’t the only change. In our January News & Resources, we asked each location to determine when it will begin implementation of the new Neighboring language and related program changes. We want to emphasize here that this is a package deal. The date your location chooses to implement the new Neighboring language is also the date that you commit to implementing the accompanying program changes.

You may be wondering what that really means. To provide some sense, we have outlined here the top 10 changes to program that will accompany this shift in language. You can view the final outcomes and benchmarks and a chart illustrating how the program standards relate to them.

Keep in mind that ALL updated and new resources will be created by Bridge of Hope National. You don’t need to and shouldn’t create or revise anything. The costs for each location will be negligible (i.e. you may end up discarding some Mentors Resource Guides if you implement the new Neighboring Training before using your current supply). At Bridge of Hope National, we are actively prioritizing the creation and updating of resources so that early implementers have the basics to get started.

Here are the top 10 changes:

Mentoring to Neighboring

1. Role and function of Neighboring Volunteers – focus on early match, tangible supports as foundation for building relationships, friendship no longer the primary message, valuing all types of supportive relationships

  • Our recent focus when training and equipping mentors has been on friendship. Mentor exit evaluations and anecdotal reports from across the network suggest that the focus on friendship leaves mentors disappointed when friendships don’t form and devalues the other contributions they make to the family. Many participants have experienced interpersonal trauma that challenges the development of trusting relationships. This shift in role and function for Neighboring Volunteers values the variety of ways that Bridge of Hope Neighbors may support families and can provide a foundation for friendships to form as well. This shift is not so much a change as a return to how mentoring was done in the earlier years of the program.

2. Reduce number of Neighboring Volunteers to 6-10

  • With the changes in the church in recent years, particularly regarding church attendance, congregations are challenged to form groups of 8-12 volunteers. The shift to smaller groups will hopefully enable more Christian Faith Communities to participate as Neighbors and also affirms the reality of many of the mentoring groups that have been formed in recent years. 

3. Allow for Christian Faith Communities not from a single congregation, i.e. Bible studies, house churches

  • Also in response to changes in the church, this shift acknowledges that Christians gather together in places and ways not connected to common church attendance. These Christian Faith Communities may seek ways to minister together that Bridge of Hope can engage. 
  • This change continues to allow for two congregations to join together as Neighboring Volunteers.

4. New Neighboring Training that will include greater focus on tangible supports instead of primarily friendship, as well as education around cultural humility and the impact of trauma

Housing

5. Increased focus on landlord partnership for housing – supportive services to landlords

  • In a housing market with low vacancy rates and limited affordable housing, landlords are not inclined to take risks on families with challenging housing histories or limited income. Partnering with landlords by providing supportive services can make it possible for landlords to takes risks in order to support these families.
  • Bridge of Hope National will create sample models that locations can adapt to help landlords be able to decrease their own risks for serving Bridge of Hope families. 

6. Increased priority on housing families quickly

  • Bridge of Hope has always been a housing first program. Yet challenging housing and job markets have hindered families from moving into housing quickly. A recommitment to this foundational philosophy will assure that families spend as little time as possible without a home of their own.

7. Include shared housing options as permanent housing

  • Bridge of Hope currently accommodates shared housing where a woman’s name is on the lease. However, in a challenging housing market, even this requirement can limit possibilities. This shift makes it possible for a woman to choose to share housing with family or friends where all parties agree to the arrangement as a long-term solution, and where the housing unit is adequate to meet the needs of all household members, whether her name is on the lease or not.

Strengthening Families

8. Focus on full family – assessing each individual member as well as family unit as a whole with screening as needed

  • Homelessness is traumatic for adults and children alike, potentially leading to depression, anxiety, physical health and educational challenges. The Bassuk Center identifies assessing all family members, addressing trauma-related issues, and treating depression in mothers as key service components for providing long term solutions to homelessness (2015, Bassuk Center, Services Matter, pgs. 29-32). Assessing and responding to the needs of each family member, as desired by the family, supports family well-being and ultimately the future housing stability of the family.

Neighboring Experience

9. Valuing, promoting, and tracking at an outcome level for Neighboring Volunteers

  • Neighboring Volunteers have a tremendous opportunity to impact the lives of a single family experiencing homelessness. They also have an opportunity to become a voice for homeless families beyond their Bridge of Hope Neighboring experience. As we strive to value the many ways Neighbors may provide support for families, we also seek to value their experience, calling ourselves to accountability by identifying desired outcomes for our volunteers and creating clearer feedback loops.

Case Management

10. Engaging Neighboring Volunteers to meet tangible needs that the Neighborhood Resource Specialist/case manager (NRS) may have been meeting, allowing for increased focus on NRS/case management services – assessment, planning, linking, monitoring, direct services like budgeting, etc.

  • Engaging Neighboring Volunteers in meeting tangible needs for families, like locating housing or providing transportation to appointments, the NRS/case manager will have additional time to focus on activities reliant on her professional skills. Some of those activities will include helping Families to identify how best the Neighboring Volunteers may be supportive of their goals and equipping Neighbors for their roles.
  • Engaging Neighboring Volunteers’ own personal/professional networks to help support Neighboring Families.