Couch-surfing is often referred to as a “hidden” form of homelessness. A common form of housing among low-income families in the Bay Area, couch surfers temporarily stay with friends or family on a couch, or any extra space in the home where they can spend the night. Because they have no other choice and no other housing options available. It poses a significant challenge for parents with young children who have nowhere else to call home. Also called “doubling up,” families who are couch surfing may not identify themselves as homeless due to traditional definitions or the stigma surrounding our housing crisis in California.
But it is a level of housing-insecurity which is unstable and unpredictable – and a family could be one-step away from being on the street or having to look for space in a shelter. In addition to the lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area, reasons vary why people couch surf: they may not feel safe sleeping in a shelter or in their car, or there are not enough family shelters, or they are fleeing domestic violence.
The connection between housing and wellness is clear. Not having a safe and consistent space to rest and call your own can be a barrier to the growth of a family’s health and a child’s development. Couch surfing in particular can create stress, where overcrowding occurs and illness can spread. The host individual, while well-intended, could be breaking their lease agreement (to have extended visitors) or jeopardizing their own subsidized housing contract. And, the surfer family may not have confidence the living arrangement will last, or that it could be negatively impacted by a disagreement or some other sudden change.
Here at BANANAS, Family Resource Navigators work with parents in these situations and consider them eligible for our CARE program (Childcare Access Referrals Ensured), which provides enhanced support so they can access services and subsidized child care. The CARE Program considers families living in “doubled-up” situations as well as in hotels/motels to be eligible, just like federal McKinney-Vento Act school districts supporting K-12 graders experiencing homelessness. This is in contrast to the more restrictive definition of eligibility per Housing Urban Development (HUD) and its homeless programs.
The goals of the BANANAS CARE program are to lift unhoused families out of crisis, provide them access to supportive services, all while treating them with dignity and respect. Parents are supported by a team of Family Resource Navigators. Our Navigators do just that – help families navigate the myriad services available to them. Accessing child care is a necessity as the overwhelming majority of CARE families are employed full-time or looking for work. A secondary goal of CARE is to eliminate the barriers and silos families face trying to navigate between various social services and safety net programs.
The goals of the BANANAS CARE program are to lift unhoused families out of crisis, provide them access to supportive services, all while treating them with dignity and respect.
Started in 2018, the BANANAS CARE program was “birthed” through a collaborative effort of partners from Parent Voices Oakland, the late Supervisor Wilma Chan’s Office, First 5 Alameda County, Alameda County Social Services Agency, Family Front Door, ALL IN, and Alameda County Early Care & Education Program. The program continues to nurture and grow with the strength of current partners such as Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center, Oakland Starting Smart & Strong, Oakland Children’s Initiative, and Oakland Unified School District McKinney-Vento. The Hellman Foundation and First 5 Alameda County support the continuation of this program recognizing the importance of affecting systems change to enable low-income and marginalized communities to access the services designed to support them.
For more information about the BANANAS CARE program and Navigation Services visit https://bananasbunch.org/care-program/