Higher Ground

Higher Ground is working to promote the education, health, and well-being of low-income children and families in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.

 

One of the community organization’s key initiatives is the Family-Led Stability Pilot to help students from Boston Public Schools who may be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The pilot is a collaborative effort (see side bar) to strengthen public schools and boost educational outcomes for students by reducing family homelessness and improving quality of life for children and families.

 

Launched in 2018, the Family-Led Stability Pilot aims to find housing for 243 homeless students from 180 families in seven schools, said Mossik Hacobian, executive director of Higher Ground. So far, they have housed about 45 of these families and secured funding for 25 more families, Hacobian explained. 

 

Higher Ground recently received funding from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health to help support the Family-Led Stability Pilot.

 

“We are very grateful and encouraged that there is a growing recognition that housing, health, and education are connected, and in order to be successful in education, you have to address those areas that affect a family’s wellbeing,” says Hacobian.

 

The funding from Boston Children’s also has significantly helped to boost fundraising efforts, Hacobian said. “The investment from Boston Children’s was critical to our fundraising momentum,” says Hacobian.

 

Community teamwork

Boston Housing Authority has set aside 35 units for homeless families. The pilot is also supported by affordable housing developers that formed New Lease for Homeless Families, a program they created where every third or fourth vacancy is made available to a homeless family. 

 

Higher Ground acts as a catalyst for collective action by working with residents and other community organizations such as Project Hope, which works with low-income women with children.

 

Project Hope was working already with several schools in the Dudley Square neighborhood (along with DSNI and New Lease for Homeless Families) to help families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless when the organization teamed up with Higher Ground for the Family-Led Stability Pilot.

 

“Schools are the right place to do this,” says Christine Dixon, executive director of Project Hope. “Many times, the teachers, front office staff and school nurses are the first ones to notice when a child or family is struggling — and the first place where a family asks for help.”

 

Dixon said teaming up with other organizations to work on the Family-Led Stability Pilot has been very effective. “By working as part of a larger collaboration we are opening more doors for families who are facing homelessness,” says Dixon.

 

Partners in the schools

Kathy Drew, an education adviser at Higher Ground, visits the schools each week. She works with principals, teachers, and Homeless Liaisons to identify families experiencing housing instability. Higher Ground has collaborated with Boston College and Boston University to place five social work graduate students in the schools. The interns assist with outreach to families and support their children during the school day. 

 

As the Family-Led Stability Pilot provides housing for the families, it tracks the students to evaluate their educational outcomes. This assessment is important, but challenging since some students have moved to other schools or even out of state, Hacobian says. They are also building a model that could potentially be shared with other communities in Massachusetts and beyond.

 

Reaching families early

Organizers try to reach families before they become homeless, whether they are couch surfing or sharing a home with another family.

 

“Many families wait until it’s almost too late to ask for help,” says Hacobian. “It’s a lot less expensive to keep a family housed than it is to get a homeless family into a home.” 

Families from Boston who lose their housing often end up in shelters far from the city — and displaced from their schools, jobs and childcare. “Families lose important connections to families, friends, their schools and opportunities to work.,” says Drew.