MINNEAPOLIS — Like most people during the first months of the pandemic, Kissie Haynes was already struggling to balance her roles of mother, grandmother and employee.
But then – on the evening of July 24, 2020 – Haynes learned her 28-year-old daughter had been killed in a car accident. And suddenly, Haynes became the sole caregiver of five children: ages 11 to 2.
“I did not see this coming… Lord, I don’t wish this on nobody, I don’t wish this on nobody,” Haynes remembered about the day she took in two more grandchildren into a home already bursting with the needs of her own children and other grandchildren.
“I had to put my job on hold for 30 days, because I had to find resources and everything to find daycare for the kids,” she said about her work as a nursing assistant and in security.
“I didn’t want the kids to see me, but I started hiding in my room – crying. Because I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Haynes – who’s experienced homelessness before – didn’t want to further disrupt the children’s lives, especially as they continued to grieve their mother.
“The last thing I wanted to do was come back here. I didn’t want to disappoint the kids,” she said.
And “here” was a place Haynes knows well – the state’s largest and most comprehensive emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness in Minnesota: People Serving People. What Haynes didn’t realize is People Serving People had just launched a new “homelessness prevention” program.
A prevention program, pandemic or not
In late October 2020, People Serving People’s Prevention Coordinator Jaisy Hernandez says the organization started to roll out their new prevention program. It had “already been in the works,” Hernandez said, before COVID threw another curveball into the challenges facing those on the brink of homelessness.
Funded by a two-year, $200,000 grant from a family foundation, the new effort aims at keeping families in their homes by simply helping them to make ends meet.
“Whether it be needing assistance with rent, or needing a car repair so they can continue to take their kids to daycare and continue to go to work, so they’re able to pay their bills,” Hernandez said, adding: “We’ve even assisted folks with job training before, too, so that they’re able to get a job with more stable hours and better pay. So they’re able to continue to pay their bills and support their family.”
People Serving People has already helped 26 families avoid the experience of homelessness through the pilot program, which also includes weekly “check-ins” on goals set by the families themselves. And while it didn’t launch in response to the pandemic, COVID has changed how they do the outreach.
“We saw that folks were unable to work for multiple reasons, whether it was their job that closed down, or their kid no longer had daycare. Or they had to support kids at home with schoolwork because kids were at home. So we saw that we were needing to assist folks a little longer than we had initially expected but were able to tailor our programming,” Hernandez said.
And while they’ve navigated that program during this critical year, People Serving People has also continued to offer shelter to families in need. This week, the downtown Minneapolis organization was providing shelter to 46 families, including 110 children.
Grandmother, mother plans to pay it forward
For Kissie Haynes, there’s no question her family remained home because of the prevention program.
“They got right on it, ASAP. They got right on it. They helped me with the food, clothes, Pampers,” Haynes said, noting that People Serving People also paid her rent for two months.
Haynes is back working full-time as a nursing assistant and helping the five children in her home. But she looks beyond the challenges of today, to consider how she’ll “give back” tomorrow.
“My next step is to stay working, try to put money in the bank and try to figure out how to buy us a home or stay in our home,” she said, adding: “I’ll also hopefully one day learn to give back to the community the way they gave to me. And that’s my goal.”
If you’d like to support People Serving People and their work to support families experiencing homelessness, just go to peopleservingpeople.org. The organization encourages general donations to support all programs and services, but people can specify “For Family Prevention Program” when making their donation.
People Serving People is also holding its 22nd Annual “Staying Sheltered” Gala – emceed by KARE 11’s Karla Hult – on Saturday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. For more information on how to join the free, virtual gala, just go to: https://www.peopleservingpeople.org/events/annual-gala/.