Despite Physical Distance, Connections Deepen

“It’s hard to believe we have passed the 100-day mark since the great COVID-19 pivot,” reflected Caroline Jones, APAH’s resident services director. With all in-person programming, except AFAC food distributions, suspended, the Resident Services Team quickly set up new communication lines, mostly by phone, but also by text, and email, to stay connected to our residents from remote workspaces.

Since mid-March, APAH’s team has connected directly with nearly 1,000 households, many of them regularly. With every phone call the staff learn more about the barriers residents face, and their resilience. The team has deepened relationships with our residents by reaching out—to listen, to offer help, to check in.

Often, and particularly for our seniors, these calls are a social lifeline for residents living alone and/or unable to leave their apartments due to medical risks . “Ensuring our residents feel supported, heard, and connected is our greatest impact”, notes Resident Services Coordinator (RSC) Venus Burgess. “These calls let us really know who these residents are, and lets the residents know who APAH is, and what we can offer.”

Contact often leads to concrete support, but the calls also help break through the isolation. “It is a great thing you are doing calling and checking up on us,” shared Madelyn, a Fisher House resident. “I miss seeing my neighbors when I go for walks. I have nobody to talk to. Thank you for letting me call you.”

Working with residents to navigate complex systems around unemployment, finding food resources, or other essential needs is challenging. Each local, state, and federal assistance program or resource has its own form. Forms ask different questions and may even use different wording and language across multiple pages of questions. “The CARES application is eight entire pages long, and while it’s a helpful resource, that’s just one form for one piece of help our residents need,” notes RSC Roxana Hernandez.

Language barriers complicate things further—particularly when technical language is used. RSC Aseel Elborno recently helped a resident fill out the Summer Cooling Utility Assistance form. “Even though the resident speaks fluent English, a question asking the type of air conditioning in his apartment stumped him. I asked, ‘What does it look like? Where is it located?’ and we worked it through together. ”

Filling out applications feels like a high stakes game. Accidentally checking off something that isn’t applicable can result in rejection for the service or assistance. Sometimes an appeal can be filed, but that could take weeks and may not guarantee success. For residents already facing financial instability with little-to-no savings, every delay can spark a crisis.

“It is hard to say that there is a silver-lining to this terrible pandemic,” observed Caroline. “But there is no question that the last 100 days have deepened our connection to our residents and understanding of their hopes and needs. As we continue to meet urgent needs now, we are excited to imagine how what we are learning will shape our future work to support the stability and mobility of all APAH residents.”