VENICE, Calif. — Economic hardships confounded by the coronavirus pandemic continue to push people onto the streets. For women who are also pregnant, these stresses can lead to health risks for their babies, including premature labor and low birth weight.
Local nonprofit Harvest Home serves these mothers and babies, and provides both physical and emotional support as their families grow.
Harvest Home was started in 1985 when their founder took a woman into her own home. The organization then rented out an apartment before ultimately ending up in a house in Venice, allowing them to serve 10 women at a time.
“In the past 35 years, we’ve had over 600 women and babies come through our program. I think if anything, COVID-19 just reinforced for us how important our mission is,” said Sarah Wilson, Executive Director of Harvest Home.
Harvest Home has increased safety during the pandemic by reducing capacity to seven women to ensure there’s more space. There is a two-week quarantine period in place, so residents can be safe in the home. Women are being tested before they move in and there haven’t been any cases reported in the home.
“I went to a nice school, I grew up with a nice family. I never in a million years thought I would be homeless and living in a van," said Alex Firestone, former Harvest Home resident. "I felt so relieved being at Harvest Home. It was helpful to have moms that already had infants, so it wasn’t as scary. I think it’s part of the cycle at Harvest Home, when one mom goes through it, you can ask that mom questions. When I go through it, a new mom could ask me questions."
Harvest Home provides a number of classes for the mothers. Once a week they have a baby talk class, where mothers can suggest topics they have questions on, and they’ll be provided with support. In the past two weeks, the women at Harvest Home talked about breastfeeding and the difference between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, and the benefits of both.
Harvest Home gets over 500 calls a year from women in need of support, and they have the ability to serve 25 women a year. The L.A. Health Department does a study that shows how many women are experiencing homelessness while pregnant. That number shows over 5,000 women a year. Yet, throughout the entire county, there are 70 beds available for women who are pregnant in shelters.
About a year and a half ago, Harvest Home received a call from the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese, and they had a former convent that had recently been vacated. They wanted to do something with that property to honor the sisters who lived in the home for years.
“We started this process now of opening a second home in Los Angeles that will allow us to serve an additional 18 women at a time. So we’ll be going from our home, which allows us to serve 10, to a full capacity of 28 women," said Wilson. "It’s a fraction of the need, it’s a drop in the bucket to the number of women that are out there in need of support right now. But we’re so grateful that we can do a little bit more."
To learn more about this organization and the women and children they serve, go to harvesthomela.org.