Preparation for any type of situation is one of the most important things for any business, organization or nonprofit.
While no one could truly be prepared for the coronavirus situation that is currently taking the world by storm, John Fowler, president and CEO for the Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, certainly tried his best to have a plan in place for everyone.
Just days before Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a stay-at-home mandate for all Californians, Mr. Fowler was already ahead of the curve, closing down all three corporate offices of PSHH and redesignating their neighborhoods for resident access only.
“We were just taking precautions and figuring out what we were going to do. Truly, I think we all saw it in the media and saw it coming and I think our staff knows that we naturally care about them, so I don’t think it was a surprise that we asked them to go home and take care of themselves first,” Mr. Fowler said.
“As a nonprofit, we are driven by doing what’s best for our people and that permeates not only what we do with our residents, but our staff as well.”
His confidence in being able to do so lied in the decisions the nonprofit made years before the novel coronavirus came to the scene.
“We have done a lot of stuff in our organization to prepare ourselves for remote work. We did many things technology wise such as moving to the cloud, put rent collections on automated deposits with many of our rental properties, and that allowed us to transition much easier,” Mr. Fowler said.
“All those little things that we did prepared us to be able to do this.”
Days after Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home mandate, members of PSHH were ahead of the curve.
“I would say we made a decision on a Tuesday and by Wednesday, just 24 hours, we were able to get our employees working from home and accomplished that,” Mr. Fowler said.
Now, several weeks after the stay-at-home mandate, PSHH’s mission to its residents has not changed.
Starting with its 208 employees, Mr. Fowler said he has been in direct communication with his entire staff on a daily basis.
He makes sure to ask his staff how they are doing as well as informing them of any government benefits they might be able to take advantage of should they need it. Mr. Fowler also informs them of the work they are doing and what they hope to continue doing even during this pandemic.
“I get emails every day saying ‘Thank you so much. I feel connected, I don’t feel isolated and I feel like you guys care,’ so that communication is critical to us,” Mr. Fowler said.
For 50 years, PSHH has delivered on its promise to help low-income families, seniors, veterans and any other people who need assistance in a variety of ways.
While the pandemic has made things a bit more difficult, Mr. Fowler has found ways to still help PSHH accomplish its goal.
For example, despite the fact kids can no longer enjoy the after-school programs offered by PSHH in person, Mr. Fowler was able to find an alternative.
“We distributed Chromebooks to our kids in the after-school programs and our lessons moved online. It was a way for us to check in and help them get their learning done,” Mr. Fowler said.
In addition to providing a way for students to continue their education, PSHH has also partnered with other organizations, such as the Salvation Army and food banks, to be able to deliver meals to residents in the community.
“That was a real big challenge that really needed to happen overnight and now we are delivering almost 4,000 meals a week,” Mr. Fowler said.
Mr. Fowler is happy with the collaboration with other organizations, as it’s only to the benefit of the community.
“Cities and counties need nonprofits to provide a lot of services and collaboration is just paramount and key for all nonprofits to be able to do what they do. We’ve seen it across the country, nonprofit collaboration and when that happens, you have a community that’s well served,” Mr. Fowler said.
Another way PSHH is still helping its residents is by checking in.
Every day, staff members will call on seniors and other vulnerable residents to make sure that they are doing well and that all their needs are met.
Even the maintenance department has stepped up, helping deliver groceries to seniors who can’t leave and shouldn’t leave in such a troubling time.
Another way PSHH is helping is by tapping into their Resident Assistance Fund, which takes donations from the community, and allows residents to be able to pay their rent and buy food.
To donate, visit https://www.pshhc.org/resident-assistance-fund/.
Overall, Mr. Fowler said he could not be more proud of his staff and the work they have done from home. In fact, he is even so impressed that working from home might become more common for the staff of the PSHH.
“We actually worked so well remotely that when the orders lifted to come back to work, we probably won’t file back in very quickly. Maybe a dozen employees will start showing up at corporate offices, but not much more, and we’ll wait to make sure this pandemic is behind,” Mr. Fowler said.
“Overall, these are our families, these are our communities and I’m not surprised at all that the organization has risen to that challenge.”