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Inside Look: New Moms Housing Program with Stacey Flint

New Moms looks at our families as whole people – body, spirit, and soul. We’re not just looking to say “Here’s a program, can you do these things?” but “Who are you? How can we help you to heal, not only for yourself, but for your children and for the next generation?”

Stable housing is an important topic here at New Moms – we provide over 80% of the beds in Chicago for young moms struggling with homelessness. Having a safe place to live is central to a family’s ability to build a strong foundation for their lives. We understand this deeply, seeing firsthand the transformation that occurs in the life of a young mom and her children once they’re able to find a stable place to pause, breathe, and start planning for the future. As we begin our housing program in Oak Park, we spoke with Stacey Flint, New Moms’ Director of Housing, to learn more about her passion for this work and what makes New Moms’ work distinct.

What made you passionate about this kind of work?

Stacey Flint, New Moms Director of Housing

I worked in the city of Chicago for over 15 years in community development. I started out in policy and advocacy work, and after

that I wanted to do something to make a tangible difference. Community organizations were usually the best advocates for themselves. I learned how to advocate from the community, so it is a natural fit to be back in the community and working from the ground up for change.

Housing, specifically, is one of the things in most communities, especially in Chicago, that is the basis for moving towards meaningful change. If you want good schools you’ve got to have good housing. If you want to have less crime on the street it goes back, again, to housing. Safety, economics – it goes back to the question of housing. Is the housing in good, stable condition? Do people feel safe and stable and have an affordable place to live? If not, you’re going to see the ripple effect it will have.

At one point, I was homeless as a young person. That experience is one of the things that really attracted me to New Moms. I wasn’t parenting, but I know that insecurity of not having a stable place to go. I always promised myself that when I got to a certain point in life, I would give back.

What does New Moms’ housing program do?

This is a transitional housing program, so we offer mothers ages 18 to 24 an opportunity to be with us for two years or until their 25th birthday. During that time they’re able to stabilize their housing situation, take advantage of our family support services to help them with their parenting, and have coaching from our Family Support Specialists to help them understand what their goals and dreams are. We walk alongside them, coach them, and provide them with the resources to increase their income, their education levels, and be prepared to have their own stable, independent housing.

That might look different for everyone – some people might move into a stable long-term situation with family and friends, or they might move into their own affordable home. Some people have gone back to college and actually found college housing with their children, which is exciting. Some people have even been able to increase their income to the level where they’re able to afford their own market-rate apartment.

It looks different for everybody, but wherever people want to and can go, we want to support them. We want to listen to the mom about what they want to do, rather than telling them “Ok, this is what you have to do, this is what you should be doing, and this is how things should work out for you”. We really want to understand – what does each individual mom want? And then how can we be creative in helping them realize the things that they want?

What do you think is distinctive about New Moms’ housing program?

I definitely think that what makes it distinctive is that we are focused on youth which gives us an opportunity to catch people when they are still dreamers, still visionaries, and hopefully have a lot of energy and resilience.

The component of spiritual health and wellbeing is also very unique and important. New Moms looks at our families as whole people – body, spirit, and soul. We’re not just looking to say “Here’s a program, can you do these things?” but “Who are you? How can we help you to heal, not only for yourself, but for your children and for the next generation?”

How does the housing program affect a mother’s relationship with her child?

The major thing is that it supports the fact that your children are not a burden, but are a joyful part of your life. In our programming, either the children are included with the moms to do things together and learn together, or there’s childcare provided. That way the mom can feel like she can relax and take in what’s going on, and not worry about “Oh my gosh, I have to take care of my child at the same time” or “Where is my child? Is my child being taken care of?”

What do you think people should know about New Moms’ housing program?

One thing that they should know is that you might come to New Moms feeling like a girl and an inadequate parent, but you’re going to blossom into the young woman and the confident parent that you can and will be. Not only that, but perhaps there are some things that you want to parent yourself in, because you didn’t get all the parenting you wish you would have had. Here you are free to parent yourself, parent your child, and to start laying the foundation for future generations.

I think it’s really important to note that our staff who work with the families really put their heart and soul into it. They become not just family coaches, but mentors, big sisters, mothers in some cases, and definitely coaches. They go above and beyond to make sure that our moms are able to do what they want to do. Sometimes that might mean inspiring them. Sometimes it means reminding them of who they are or what they can do. Sometimes it means saying, “Here you can use my laptop” or “Let me hold your baby while you make this call,” or “Let’s practice what you’re going to say to this employer or this landlord when you talk to them on the phone.” They really need to be creative and think on their feet because each situation can be different.

What is a misconception people have about New Moms’ housing program?

I think from the outside world, people assume – “oh, it’s a homelessness program”. That’s not how I think about it.

Yes, people have been struggling with homelessness and that’s why they come here. However, it takes tenacity, grit, and determination to come into a program like New Moms. You’re a gutsy person because you are picking this program. We don’t go out and beg you or recruit you – once you’re paired with our housing program through the Coordinated Entry System, you learn about New Moms and decide if this is the program for you. When a young mom comes to New Moms, they are not content or happy with their situation and they’re not willing to let themselves and their children continue in instability and homelessness. They’ve already decided to do something to change the situation. If they’re coming to New Moms it means that they’ve done the research, they’ve done the work and they’ve actually picked us. That they’ve chosen us means something to us – it’s both a responsibility and a privilege.

People can get caught up in their problems and trauma, only seeing themselves as pregnant teens, unwed mothers, or homeless, rather than seeing amazing, resilient, powerful people who decide to change their situation and make a difference in their children’s lives and their children’s children’s lives. They are visionaries who have the support of these people, but also a divine presence of protection that’s embracing us all to get through the difficulties of life. We’re not alone.

Why are you excited about the new Oak Park housing? What’s your role in that housing program?

I’m excited about our new Oak Park housing because the community of Oak Park, where I live, has talked a lot about a commitment to affordable housing and a desire to be inclusive. This is an opportunity to put those words into action. We look forward to the community continuing to embrace us.

I’ll be overseeing that program as well. There will be 18 units of permanent, supportive housing. Unlike here at the Chicago location, where you have to exit the program within 24 months, there you are able to stay as long as the program and the housing fits your needs. We look forward to that.

Can you tell us about a moment that you felt like your program was fulfilling New Moms’ mission or its own specific goals?

There are so many! But one is from the beginning of the year. We were doing vision boards and just getting people excited about visually putting down what their lives could look like this coming year. One young lady was working on her vision board and she was being so precise. You would think there was a machine that had cut out everything that was on her vision board. I came by and commented on some of her things and said “You’re really precise, do you like math?” and she said “Yes, in fact, I do like math” and she started talking and I was like “Wow, how are you going to realize your dreams?” and she said “I’m going to go back to college” and I said “I really believe you’re going to do that.”

Last winter, she was accepted back into college, the one she had dropped out of when she had gotten pregnant! They gave her a dorm room for her and her daughter and a full scholarship! Now she’s a business major. New Moms paid her first month’s rent in her dorm. She’s going to come back and visit to share her story with the moms still in our program.