When the coronavirus crisis hit the United States two months ago, Maggie’s Place, a pro-life maternity home in Cleveland, had to shut down.
“We can’t risk the moms’ safety and the health of the women here,” Regional Director Erin Hathaway said in March, noting that one of her pregnant residents had a history of health issues that made her especially susceptible to COVID-19. “She’s not even leaving her room a lot of the time. It’s debilitating, honestly.”
In the middle of our conversation, Hathaway put me on hold to answer another line.
“That was actually a call from someone that I had to say no to because of the coronavirus,” she said. “It’s hitting us hard.”
Now that Ohio is beginning to lift public health restrictions, Hathaway and her staff are exploring options for reopening Maggie’s Place in June. Other pro-life maternity homes across the country are trying creative methods to bring in new residents, while others barely stopped in the first place. Many homes want to help already vulnerable women cope with the tough situations brought on by the pandemic.
Pro-life maternity homes provide mothers with temporary free housing during and after their pregnancies, sometimes up to a couple of years after they give birth. The programs then help the new mothers find housing and community resources when they move out. Many of these women would become homeless without assistance.
When the virus first struck, the Maryland-based Gabriel Network took 10 days to evaluate the best way to protect current residents while still receiving new women. It decided to resume operations by housing incoming residents at a nearby hotel.
“Once a woman has been accepted into the program, she moves into that hotel for two weeks and monitors her temperature and kind of keeps to herself,” said Stephen Wallace, Gabriel Network’s executive director and chairman for Heartbeat International’s Maternity Housing Coalition. “If everything is good, she’ll move into the home after that.”
One maternity housing program in Texas parked a donor’s recreational vehicle in the front yard of one of the homes for women to live in under quarantine. A hotel in Fredericksburg, Va., offered to house women from a local maternity program and serve them breakfast for $45 a day per woman.
That program—Mary’s Shelter—offers financial support so women can afford to live on their own. “We’ve paid car payments,” said Executive Director Kathleen Wilson. “We’ve given them food money. We’ve tried to help women stay where they are.”
Wilson noticed that the women who came to Mary’s Shelter during the pandemic had bigger concerns than COVID-19: “What’s really odd to me is not many of them actually talk about the coronavirus. But what I have heard … more than any time before, people are saying, ‘I’m being forced to abort.’” She said this pressure stems from the financial strain many families are experiencing during the pandemic.
Wallace said the Gabriel Network initially saw a dip in housing requests in March and April, but they’ve already seen call volume increase this month. Other maternity homes in Heartbeat International’s nationwide coalition have witnessed the same trend.
“[With] a lot of people being out of work and the way that’s going to exacerbate difficult family relationships and preexisting vulnerability, we’d expect there to be a lot of need,” he said.
Both the Gabriel Network and Mary’s Shelter had to cancel major donor events and replace them with online fundraisers because of the coronavirus. So far, donations haven’t dipped far below what they see in a normal year.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about how it’s going to play out over the next year, like the rest of the economy,” Wallace said. “God wants this work to happen, and He’ll provide. But it’s definitely a challenge right now.”