Homelessness. It’s a terrifying word—especially for a woman who finds herself pregnant. In fact, it can push many over the edge to abortion. That’s why some pregnancy center leaders are looking to add housing to their services.
Maternity housing is on the rise in recent history, with more pregnancy centers exploring whether they can add housing to their services.
Housing was also a focus at the first post-Roe March for Life Rally.
“We have seen a 16 percent increase in our maternity housing affiliates since the overturn of Roe v. Wade,” said Valerie Harkins, Maternity Housing Coalition director and Housing specialist with Heartbeat International. “We are seeing an uptick in organizations providing diversity of services, which often includes maternity housing. This looks like pregnancy centers or mobile centers expanding their services to include housing provided directly through their organization.”
A workshop on this crucial, developing issue was presented at Heartbeat International's 2023 Annual Conference, titled, “Extending Your Services to Include Housing.” It was led by Laura Dickinson, CEO of Clarity Solutions, a Kentucky-based pregnancy center.
Dickinson attached housing to her agency and now encourages those curious about doing the same for their agency’s list of services to “dream intelligently.” It’s all part of the discernment process.
She ran down specifics for discerning adding housing to your pregnancy help center for her workshop’s attendees.
The first step is to pray.
“We know that God cares deeply for these ladies,” Dickinson said, “and He desires to answer these prayers.”
Another part of the discernment process includes one’s personal story, she said, which has been impacted by God, Dickinson offering the example of God bringing an especially impactful client.
The next part is counting the cost, something Dickinson said was wise to do in the beginning.
The next step is gathering all the data you can.
“I started asking my assistant at the time and the nurses who helped us compile statistics about who was even coming through our doors already,” she said. “How many women were we seeing who were struggling with housing instability; was there even a need?”
Dickinson’s center was seeing six or seven ladies come through each month saying that they had housing instability.
She also realized she needed to define homelessness.
Her center defined that as unstable housing, homeless without a stable structure, living in a hotel, couch surfing, living in their car, or even desiring to flee an unstable or unsafe situation.
There are also government sites that can help you pinpoint homelessness data in your area, and Dickinson also offered a checklist she created.
The first checklist
Is the Lord leading your center in this direction? When you pray or think about this possibility, does it excite your spirit? And is there a tangible need in your community being felt for housing that’s made available for pregnant women?
Answering yes to this first checklist means next come more specific, business-related checklists, a big part of the discernment process.
Do you have the buy-in of your board/governance?
“You don’t want to be the sole owner of this dream,” Dickinson said.
Is your board healthy and hard working?
It’s a vital question, she said.
Another big one: Does the idea fall in line with your center’s strategic plan? If not, you may want to pause and give time to think that through.
It’s important that all executive leaders are excited about this project. This connects back to that first check list.
“Initially, there is usually just like one person who's doing the lion's share of researching and policy writing, and so that's probably going to be you,” Dickinson said. “If housing's not something that lights your fire, that may be an aspect of the discernment process for you, then you might want to consider and pray on.”
Also, are giftings of the organization evident? This is the God-given gift of organization that will be critical from the initial phases all the way to the home being fully operational.
In short, someone needs to be able to get down into the weeds and details of how everything all fits together. Leadership also needs to know how to appropriately cast the vision to the staff, volunteers, and community.
“What's neat about the housing community is that those who wouldn't touch a pro-life mission with a 10-foot pole could really wholeheartedly get behind housing pregnant single moms,” Dickinson said.
Of course, money is a crucial ingredient in all of this.
Is your center already well-funded in current mission areas? If there are holes, it might be worth patching those up first before going onto this expensive endeavor.
Would your community rally around this new expansion?
“Could you present this at your next banquet or gala or golf scramble or walk for life? And would people be excited about it?” Dickinson asked.
The next critical funding question: Is there a plan in place for the initial withdrawal this expansion would require in the annual budget?
Examples of these costs would be staffing the home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Does your center already have adequate staff for all general roles?
You don't necessarily have to duplicate your executive leader, development person, or medical team, or client services areas for the home, Dickinson explained, but there's new staff that you need to have for the home, and otherwise you want to make sure you're already well staffed.
It’s important to make sure there are adequate hiring possibilities in your area to fill those new roles, and it’s critical to have a culture of staff care and adequate measures of rest, as this kind of work can take an emotional toll.
“Burnout out can be really high if the staff of a home don't feel adequately cared for and there's not proactive steps taken to ensure there's adequate respite time,” Dickinson said.
Does your center already have a culture of being trauma-informed?
“I'm so grateful that the pregnancy help community has better understood the need to come from a place of compassion and understanding for residents who come from traumatic experiences and histories—and how that will manifest themselves in the daily lives of your residents,” Dickinson said.
You also need adequate programming on pregnancy and parenting already in place. It’s important that while these women are in the residence you prepare them for everything they’ll need as they get ready to welcome their baby into the world.
And then there’s the case management piece. Be sure you have that ready, which will be another critical aspect of helping these pregnant women as they navigate becoming a parent to a new baby.
Is there a facility you already have in mind? Has a potential home caught your eye?
“Maybe it's not a home,” said Dickinson. “Maybe it's an apartment, maybe it's a duplex, maybe it's something else that can be really fun.”
And if so, have you thought about its proximity to your center and all the details related to that, including transportation and the associated costs?
And once you have identified an appropriate facility, could your center take on a mortgage or raise a capital campaign for it?
“The cost of the facility may determine what kind of housing model you choose,” Dickinson said.
If you looked at the information above and found yourself saying “yes” more than “no” to the various questions and issues raised, then you might be ready to move forward. And that’s where Dickinson mentioned the benefits that come with adding housing to your services.
This includes the fact that it’s easier to manage the legal aspects. You only need one board and one set of financial statements. You can bring the housing aspect under everything else you already have in place with the center.
And that dovetails into the next reason: It’s easier to add housing as a service offered by your pregnancy center than starting from scratch by only offering housing.
“Your center already has all of those things in place,” she said. “It's a logical extension of your pregnancy care mission.”
The first consideration is the initial fundraising.
“How much do we need and where is it going to come from?” she asked. “How are we going to jumpstart?”
Dickinson shared her story that may inspire some creative brainstorming for your center.
“I knew that one of our major church partners had a robust missions department that offered grants for various mission initiatives,” she said. “And so, I worked really diligently on this grant process for several weeks that landed us with $90,000 of that needed income.”
Buying and potentially remodeling the home are important costs that you will need to consider.
“Often you may need to remodel or renovate your home to suit your needs,” Dickinson said.
This can take months or even a year, depending on supply chain issues and funding, making patience key in this phase.
Another consideration is your center’s standardized acceptance and disqualifying criteria, who you will take or not take. This necessitates determining staff and facility capabilities and writing out the intake process.
“What is your home going to be like?” Dickinson said. “How is your home going to be the same or different from other homes you've heard of or know? It's really helpful to take tours of as many homes as you can in your state or region.”
This will help give a clear picture of what functioning homes are like.
“Talking with staff who have been there and done that is so helpful and eye-opening and will reveal things to you that you haven't thought of before,” she said, recommending the National Christian Housing Conference as a resource.
Whom to hire is another big consideration.
“The staffing really ends up being the program,” Dickinson said, as they're “living life with these women.”
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She encouraged people to visit the Maternity Housing Coalition website, which lists each staffing structure for maternity homes with pros and cons.
“Once you have that staffing model in mind, who can make decisions, who has the authority over the residents and over the home, it's really important to make sure the center has thought this through for clarity's sake so that everyone's on the same team,” she said.
“If it's not clear to you, then it won't be clear for the residents and that will be a way that they can maybe manipulate circumstances. So, you want to clarify the roles,” Dickinson added.
The Maternity Housing Coalition website is available HERE.
Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News. Heartbeat Conference recordings can be purchased HERE.