28 Aug Org focus friday: babies of homelessness
Babies of Homelessness is a 501(3)c nonprofit crisis response team that delivers basic needs (diapers, wipes, formula) to families with children experiencing homelessness in the Puget Sound region.
Access to basic needs is one of the single most powerful tools for overcoming homelessness. Yet, families experiencing homelessness face an increasing number of barriers that prevent them from equitably accessing items such as diapers, formula, and food. Babies of Homelessness was created to change that.
Their volunteer network operates a 24/7 phone line to assess needs. They are the only nonprofit that cuts through accessibility barriers for families experiencing homelessness and delivers basic necessities within 72 hours, working in tandem with two King County diapers banks to serve the hardest to reach, sometimes invisible and most vulnerable—families with children not yet be connected with the case management system nor have the everyday supports that many of us take for granted. Through their 1:1 deliveries, made within 72 hours, their volunteers have served approximately 3,000 families throughout the two countries since 2016. They also distribute one month’s worth of basic necessities (i.e. diapers, wipes, formula and baby and toddler food) to a network of 12 agencies throughout two counties. Since launching the additional distribution method last summer, BoH has made 64 van deliveries and served a total of 700 children. 65,000 diapers have been distributed since January.
At Babies of Homelessness, the motto is no multiple rounds of intakes, no waitlist, no red tape, no referral process. The children’s needs are always the top priority.
Michaela and her husband were happy to give birth to a beautiful baby girl. Upon being discharged, the hospital asked if they had a car seat for the baby, but not if they had a place to live. Michaela and her family went back to their van, where it was parked that summer in Kirkland. Returning to the hospital not long after to check the baby for heatstroke, Michaela was threatened with a visit from Child Protective Services. Ashamed and afraid, Michaela reached out to Babies of Homelessness. Her needs were met with compassion and support, and today the couple and their 20-month-old daughter live in permanent housing and Michaela’s husband is employed full time.
Brittan Stockert, Babies of Homelessness executive director, knows that solving homelessness is not easy. She believes, however, that providing clean diapers to babies who are living in encampments or cars or bouncing from shelter to shelter, is an important way to start. It’s also important to note that Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards — formerly known as food stamps — can’t be used to buy diapers, even though they are crucial to a baby’s health.
Diaper need is a hidden and silent crisis in the U.S. that requires support from the private and public sectors in our communities. Without diapers, parents cannot send children to childcare or early education programs. Without childcare, parents cannot go to school or work to attain long term goals. COVID has exacerbated these inequities. Community members, funders and donors need to prioritize basic needs and diaper needs before addressing homelessness with complex solutions.
“Sometimes we receive criticism for what we do because we are not solving everything at once,” Stockert says. “However, research has shown a huge correlation between the diaper needs of low-income mothers and maternal depression. Diaper need, even more than a lack of food, is a stressor that leads to hardships and mental health struggles. So if we can alleviate this problem, we, and the community, can continue to work on the rest.”
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Babies of Homelessness faces challenges with time, resources, staff, and finances, and have almost no margin for error even in normal times. Now with COVID-19, they have seen the demand for basic needs services increase while operating with limited volunteer staffing, negotiating diaper shortages and dealing with price spikes.
During the next few months, they plan on expanding their reach to serve more families with a greater focus in areas where no diaper banks exist. Specifically, communities that have been historically disproportionality affected, and now at greater risk due to COVID – South King County and Snohomish County. They are looking for volunteers who can help deliver basic needs items to families experiencing homelessness in South King County.