Living in shelters, outdoors, or in their cars, between 70 and 100 Dane County families are homeless any day of the week. Far more local families are at risk of becoming homeless while doubling up with family or friends. Schools and service agencies report that most of these fragile families consist of a single custodial adult (mom, dad, aunt, grandparent, etc.) raising minor-aged children.
Rachel and her children, Marcus and Marina, are one of these families. They were staying with Rachel’s cousin and two kids for several months before it became too crowded and the landlord threatened to evict them for violating the lease.
Rachel connected with YWCA Madison, which helps doubled-up families find permanent housing. But once in her new apartment, there was still a good chance Rachel’s family would fall back into homelessness without additional support.
Placing homeless and at-risk families in housing is not enough. National data on housing with long-term supportive services overwhelmingly shows greater housing stability, improved enrollment in early education, and better child welfare outcomes.
Local nonprofit housing providers, YWCA Madison and Catholic Charities of Madison, receive funding to place families in housing. But this funding does not cover ongoing help that keeps families in their new homes. Without supportive services to address challenges with transportation, mental health, financial literacy, employment, childcare, parenting skills, addiction recovery, and health care, families are likely to return to homelessness.
This is where you and St. Vincent de Paul — Madison’s new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program step in.
The Seton Program was created in the fall of 2022 to fill this glaring gap and help fragile families on the path to stability.
The Seton Program provides wrap-around, flexible, individualized supportive services to newly housed single adult families. Seton Program staff and volunteers accompany families to work on issues negatively impacting their well-being and help them create manageable goals that bring stability, prevent future homelessness, and help them thrive.
Up to 20 families will be enrolled in the Seton Program in its first year, with the capacity to grow over time. Support is provided with no term limit; however, a two-year enrollment is expected.
In Rachel’s case, the help she receives through the Seton Program goes beyond material necessities. It’s a chance to connect with a trusted person and receive encouragement to push through challenges. Emotional support and accompaniment means she’s not alone during this stressful point in life.
Seton Program Director and social worker, Priscilla Lentini, is that trusted person.
“I tell people, ‘You’re not a mess. You’re going through a lot of challenges right now. And you have a lot of strengths that you’re bringing to the issues you’re facing,” Priscilla said. “Their attitude flips to, ‘I can do this. I have the capability to face what I’m going through right now.’ Sometimes you just need to hear it from someone else to believe that you’re not your issues.”
You have made the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program possible. With you, Rachel’s life, and those of her children are changing for the better.
“The Seton Program complements existing efforts from SVdP Madison such as the food pantry and pharmacy that address the immediate needs of our neighbors,” Susanna Herro, Board Secretary, said. So many of us care deeply about our brothers and sisters in need and are eager to walk alongside them on a path of greater stability. This program makes that possible.”
To effectively and efficiently support fragile families, a central program space is under construction where families can meet with Priscilla, mental health, and human service professionals, search for job opportunities, identify affordable child care, and access additional resources.
The Seton Program will be housed above the St. Vincent de Paul Williamson Street Thrift Store, currently undergoing an extensive building redevelopment (see sidebar). Completion is expected in the fall of 2024.
Because of you, Rachel is participating in an addiction recovery peer group, has landed a job with good benefits, and is learning how to advocate for her children at school. Marcus has a tutor to help him with math and Marina is excited about art class in Pre-K. They are happy to have a place to call home where they can heal from the trauma of homelessness, and set a course to move from surviving to thriving.
Please keep Rachel and her children in your prayers. Click here to share your volunteer time or click here to make a gift to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program.
* Names changed to maintain the neighbors’ privacy. Photos are representational.
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