A mother loses her job, a father is kept from working by an injury, a family is forced from their home by fire or natural disaster. Healthcare costs soar, public transportation is underfunded, affordable housing is almost impossible to find. These are just some of the reasons why families now make up 40 percent of the homeless population, and why one out of every four homeless people is a child. In fact, families with children now comprise the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population.
In response to this crisis, the Interfaith Hospitality Network brings together the faith community to help families regain their housing, their independence, and their dignity. IHN is a nationwide partnership of congregations working together within a community to help families who are facing homelessness.
Here in Santa Rosa County, twelve churches of all denominations have partnered together through IHN to form Family Promise of Santa Rosa County. Their mission is to move homeless children and their families from crisis to self-sufficiency by helping homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence. This program is not a hand-out but rather a hand-up. Family Promise mobilizes existing local resources to provide food, shelter, and support services for homeless families as they work to get back on their feet. Through local churches, these resources include available congregational spaces, donated goods, and - most important - volunteers.
This past week, Woodbine Baptist Church on Woodbine Road in Pace had the opportunity to host Family Promise for Holy Week. There were two families enrolled in the program, including three children ages 1 through 4. Arriving on Sunday afternoon, the families were greeted with a hot meal, a warm house, and friendly smiles from the Church’s volunteer hosts. Supporting the Family Promise program takes the efforts of most of Woodbine Baptist Church’s active and caring congregation. Church members cleaned and prepared the Parsonage for our visiting families. Sunday School classes cooked and delivered hot and healthy meals for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Trained volunteers even stayed in the Parsonage with the families as Overnight Hosts in case emergency transportation was required. At the end of the week, as Family Promise families moved to another host church, more church members again cleaned the Parsonage, washing laundry, doing dishes, and returning serving platters to those who had brought in food.
Wendy Allen, the Family Promise coordinator for Woodbine Baptist Church, said “You can be blessed in so many different ways when you serve the Lord in helping others. It is wonderful to see our church family caring for other families who are trying to get back on track with their lives. The Lord is definitely working through us to better the lives of others.” In the five and a half years that Woodbine Baptist has participated in Family Promise, our church has hosted 27 times (churches usually host once every three months), has served 243 hot meals and 162 lunches, provided three trips to the Emergency Room and one emergency tooth extraction, and have directly cared for 39 mothers, 13 fathers, 6 pregnant mothers, and 106 children.
Families who participate in Family Promise must be working to attain goals leading to self-sufficiency. This may include getting a Driver’s License, finding a job, earning a GED, saving enough money for a car or for a security deposit on housing. Meanwhile, the families are provided with safe, home-like lodging, nutritious meals every day, assistance with finding housing and employment, transportation to work, school, or medical appointments, and even donations of clothing or baby needs. The families stay together in safe settings, the children remain in their same schools, and parents have opportunities to gain skills to increase their earning potential.
In addition to providing support to homeless families, Family Promise also provides advice and advocacy for at-risk families to prevent their becoming homeless. Advisors educate people about poverty and the means to combat it. The success rate of Family Promise is admirable. Nationally, nearly 80% of the families served by IHN go on to secure permanent housing.
Family Promise of Santa Rosa County offers an opportunity for volunteers of all faiths to reduce homelessness and transform lives, right here within our community. By mobilizing existing resources (houses of worship for lodging, congregations for volunteers), Woodbine Baptist Church and other local churches help homeless families achieve lasting independence at a third of the cost of public shelters. As one volunteer said, “Here in Santa Rosa, we take care of our own.”
Together, Santa Rosa County churches are changing the lives of children and their families, positively impacting today and tomorrow. Information on Family Promise can be found at www.familypromisesrc.orgor by calling 850-623-5300.