What’s Next for Heart Room? Discussion March 27 at 9 a.m.

Heart Room is a pilot program that began in 2018 to help families with young children find and keep stable housing long-term.  Stable housing is a platform for children and families to thrive.  Heart Room is designed to empower families to meet their own goals. Compared to other rental assistance programs, Heart Room is very flexible in response to family goals and choices.

The Heart Room pilot was initiated by ORUCC and developed and implemented with professional partners – – The Road Home, Joining Forces for Families, and the Early Childhood Initiative of Dane County.(ECI).  It’s time to consider what we’ve learned in this pilot program and where we go from here.  Join Mike Bruce, of Joining Forces for Families, and ORUCC Heart Room Mission Team members to hear more and share your questions and ideas for the future. 

Background: Heart Room’s Basic Design and Pilot Experience

Heart Room serves families with young children, initially in south/southwest neighborhoods near the church. Each family receives up to three years of rental assistance (funded by ORUCC members) and other supports from professional partners and church volunteers. Funding and other supports are flexible to address specific family-driven goals and priorities.  

The partner agencies have contributed staff time for family case management and other services, plus extra time for teamwork in this collaborative model. In addition to providing housing case management, The Road Home administers and facilitates the collaboration, including payment of rental assistance to landlords based on discussions of the annual “budget” with each family. 

Early evaluations say the program is working well. Seven of eight families maintained stable housing. Families and case managers are positive about their experiences.  Together, Heart Room partners decided to extend two original families due to pandemic set-backs, and to enroll another 8 families starting in 2022 and 2023.  ORUCC has raised over $250,000 for the first eight and the next eight families, through voluntary donations from church members.

Now, the Heart Room partners have begun to explore where we go beyond this pilot project. The unmet need for affordable, good quality housing is great.  What is our part in meeting a community-wide goal to assure that all children and their families have stable housing?   Heart Room is one approach that can be helpful, alongside other community responses.  Listening to voices of family, workers and community, we want to say “yes” more often to families! We are considering what are practical priorities and steps we can take with others in this voluntary collaboration.

One possible area of focus is strengthening how we support immigrant families.  This would reflect ORUCC’s commitment to a wide welcome and support for immigrants in our community. We will also consider other ways to expand and improve – whether with specific new partners, geographic areas, or other ways.  We welcome your questions and suggestions!

Helene Nelson, Chair
Heart Room Mission Team