Question from the reader: Is there a way to make sure that there will always be even one resident in the house? Sometimes a month goes by and my house is empty. Am I doing something wrong?

EmptyBedThere has been quite a bit of buzz around this topic since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Ministries across the country have found themselves on vacillating ends of the spectrum between empty and full houses with burgeoning waiting lists. So why the variance?

I recently spoke with homes from different regions of the country, each with varied programming models, ministry models, and eligibility criteria. I found that the homes with low occupancy rates (For the purposes of this writing, “low” will be less than 25%) repeatedly described their experiences of receiving calls from women in the community inquiring about their home or even interviewing some women, however, these women did not meet the criteria to be eligible to move into the home. Reasons ranged from past or current drug use, criminal record, previous pregnancies, previous children removed from care, children currently in care, or perhaps a generally poor attitude. Needless to say, this can be an exhausting daily merry-go-round for ministries. 

Eligibility Criteria

The most notable trend which emerged from these conversations comes as no surprise to all of you in the maternity housing field. Maternity Homes with fewer residential eligibility criteria generally remain at a higher occupancy rate than homes with many eligibility criteria. Overall, I found that the greater the number of “checkpoints” to pass to qualify to move into the maternity home the lower the occupancy rate of the home overall. So what should we take away from this?

Before you jump to removing all of your eligibility criteria in desperation to fill your beds there are a few considerations to be had. Here are a few questions for open discussion with your staff:

  • How did we come to choose these parameters that we’ve set to be considered eligible to move in? Review each criteria individually. 
  • Why are our parameters set in such a way that the majority of inquiring candidates do not meet them?
  • Who did the Lord call our organization to serve? Where is this population found?
  • Do we believe that the Lord only wants this organization to serve those that meet this set of criteria?

While these questions can feel uncomfortable at first glance, take another look at them. Each question may very well be answered affirmatively to the ways your organization is currently operating. If this is the case, then carry on during your season of lulling occupancy to make the most of your (probably short) window of opportunity. 

I suspect there may be a few of you that can relate to myself and many others I connected with in the maternity housing ministry that found upon closer inspection that many of the criteria I’d set for residents were set for reasons that no longer seemed quite so critical. Much of the criteria did not match the changing trends of our local community which explained why our beds were empty - there simply weren’t very many women in the city that matched that profile. Other reasons include fear of losing control of the home or even helplessness in not knowing how to help someone with such severe problems. It is in this place that I encourage you to consider an update to the criteria for residents to be considered eligible to move in. With this refresh you may need to add resources and training to meet the needs of new residents moving in. 

Mission Drift?

I’d be remiss to not mention a quick note about mission drift.There is a delicate balance between adapting to the trends of the community and resisting the temptation to be “trendy” in ministry. It is normal to find yourself realizing that perhaps it is time for your organization to take a fresh analytical look at the current trends in the population around you. Where are they? What are their needs? What is their story? Where have they been? Studying questions such as these will help you to connect the core mission of your home with the needs of your community. In this way, you may shift the “how” of your ministry but remain faithful to the “what.” 

Topics like these bring up a variety of topics such as mission drift, staff training, trauma informed care, board training, and most of all - burn out. Heartbeat Affiliates have access to cost-free consultations with maternity housing specialists through the National Maternity Housing Coalition. Interested in meeting with a specialist? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.