Housing Families: One Approach to Homelessness

April 10, 2017 Updated: April 12, 2017

In a previous article, “Books to Help Us Understand Homelessness,” began the process of approaching the problem of homelessness. Part 2 looks at one private non-profit that’s tackling the issue holistically.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” says the old Chinese proverb. Housing Families Inc. recognizes how true that saying is.

Housing Families, Inc. (HFI) in Malden, Massachusetts uses a holistic approach to the problem of homelessness. They realize that there is no such thing as an average homeless person. Some are homeless for only a few weeks or a couple of months, and then there are those who are chronically homeless and usually have other problems—mental illness or substance abuse or other debilitating damage debilitating sickness.  Abuse may be a cause. More and more the working poor are becoming homeless due to the widening gap between wages and rents.  Solutions to the homelessness problem thus vary according to the population worked with.

Founded in 1986 HFI is dedicated to ending family homelessness in Malden and the surrounding communities. Last year it served 750 families.

Working only with families—those mostly headed by single mothers—HFI has an emergency shelter consisting of 100 apartments, each with a private bath and kitchen, and each assigned to one family. 

These private units allow parents to cook healthy meals for their children and ensure that they are safe. HFI also works with local landlords and owns apartments.

A summer enrichment program through Housing Families Inc. had staff of Pisa Pizza in Malden, Mass. teach children how to make pizza. (Housing Families, Inc.)
A summer enrichment program through Housing Families Inc. had staff of Pisa Pizza in Malden, Mass. teach children how to make pizza. (Housing Families, Inc.)

HFI believes that while permanent housing is the priority, housing is only the beginning of a solution. Once a family is in a home, HFI, with the help of many outside organizations, businesses, and places of worship in the community, begins to find lasting solutions to prevent the cycle of homelessness from recurring.

The needs of the clients at any given time really drive the design. According to Patty Kelly, HFI’s manager of Special Events and Community Outreach, they have a pretty high success rate.  

Here are just a few of the services provided.

GREAT Youth and Families Program (part of HFI)

In order to break the cycle of poverty, HFI works on strengthening the next generation. Their award-winning youth program offers intensive academic and therapeutic services to help homeless children succeed. 

Drawing by a child in the Housing Families program. (Housing Families, Inc.)
Drawing by a child in the Housing Families program. (Housing Families, Inc.)

GREAT Youth offer a variety of approaches such as after school tutoring and homework help to ensure children improve in school and build skills for future success, and individual and group arts and expressive therapy to address the social and emotional needs of children who have experienced significant trauma.

The program has a summer camp to reduce summer learning loss through educational and enrichment field trips, academically stimulating activities, art therapy, and health and wellness activities.

Counseling and support is also available for parents.

Food Link 

This outside agency is a community organization “that rescues fresh food, alleviates hunger, and contributes to environmental sustainability.” Powered by over 100 volunteers, the agency collects food that wasn’t sold from local groceries and shops, such as high-quality fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, bread, and prepared foods.

In addition to HFI, it services 30 social service agencies serving people in need, including after school programs, programs for at-risk youth, low income housing facilities, homeless shelters, food pantries, and senior centers.

Raising a Reader MA 

Another outside organization, Raising a Reader, helps families with young children (birth through age 6) develop, practice, and maintain habits of reading together at home. 

Reading to children is a great way to teach children how to read and boost language development. Children experience firsthand the connection between the written word and verbal vocabulary.

Reading-aloud sessions are also allow for bonding, and the adult reader can add comments while reading to teach children lessons about life.

This program also increases access to books. Knowing how to read can lift less advantaged children and improve their chances for success as adults as it exposes children to new ideas outside of daily life.

Finally, the reader’s enthusiasm about books will be contagious and reading may become a life-long habit.

Drawing by a child in the Housing Families program. (Housing Families, Inc.)
Drawing by a child in the Housing Families program. (Housing Families, Inc.)

Furnishing Hope of Massachusetts, Inc

This outside organization provides access to new and gently used furniture and some basic household goods to HFI clients. Furnishing Hope also helps with moving the furniture and gives guidance when setting up a home.

Up to this point, homeless families often have all their possessions contained in a few trash bags. Thanks to Furnishing Hope of Massachusetts, an empty space usually becomes a place where clients feel they belong.

Horizons for Homeless Children 

Horizons for Homeless Children refers trained volunteers for both tutoring and childcare. It helps children regain their self-esteem so they are able to thrive as active and integral members of their community.

Clinical Stabilization Case Manager  (HFI follow-up program)

Long-term change means long-term investment. Even after families find permanent housing, case managers stay connected to empower families to avoid the pitfalls that made them homeless in the first place.

Kelly defines success “as helping families who were once homeless realize that there is an organization available to assist with various services.” She says that every time HFI can offer “a smile, a helping hand, or an ear to listen, that is success.”


Linda Wiegenfeld, a retired teacher, welcomes readers’ comments. Her email is lwiegenfeld@aol.com