As a Latina single mother left to care for her son at the age of 16, Darleny Mejia knows the challenges of parents managing homelessness, trauma, and language barriers—now made even more difficult by Boston’s burgeoning housing crisis.

That’s why Mejia is passionate about her work as a Front Porch Family Partner at Children’s Services of Roxbury (CSR) where she helps other parents transition from shelters to permanent housing.

One of those parents is Alejandro, a dad who lived in a shelter for more than two years with his children. One of his children has autism and had struggled in the shelter, but that all changed when the family received Mejia’s support.

“Because I speak Spanish, it removed any language barriers,” says Mejia. “I worked one-on-one with Alejandro to prepare him for municipal meetings and helped him find community resources that support his children’s specific needs.” As a result, Alejandro received a housing voucher and now has a stable place for him and his family to live.

Community health workers—or Family Partners as CSR calls them—are trusted members of the community who have lived experiences and extensive behavioral health training. They serve as a bridge by connecting individuals to much needed services and resources.

In 2019, Mass General Hospital funded CSR’s Front Porch Program, an initiative to recruit, train and coach a team of multilingual, multicultural community health workers with specialized skills to address mental health and complex trauma for parents of color who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless.

Since its launch three years ago, the Front Porch program has provided access to resources for 300 parents in shelters, including behavioral health, self-care planning, and parenting supports. And the program has already helped 100 parents secure stable, affordable housing.

As a Haitian mother of a child with special medical needs, Ketura Cordon brings her lived experience and native language to her work as a Family Partner.

“I work with many immigrant families who need housing and financial stability as well. It’s difficult for them to find their way, so we’re helping them to build the essential skills they need to maintain stable living.”

- Ketura Cordon

Condon’s job includes filling out housing applications, finding financial assistance programs, and accessing mental health supports. She recently helped a mother through the process of enrolling in trade school – an important step toward a more secure financial future for the woman and her children.

With the renovation of its headquarters in Roxbury, CSR plans to construct a physical Front Porch space that will expand the program’s capacity, allowing for more Boston families in crisis to access critical supports, as the need for mental health services and housing in the city has grown exponentially since the start of the pandemic.

“There are so many people who have lived in Boston for generations who are simply unable to keep up with the rising cost of rent,” says Cordon. “But when families are struggling with recovery, domestic violence, and low incomes, it’s that much harder for them.”

Note: the name of the individual formerly living in a shelter has been changed to maintain their privacy