Without Family Promise of Greater Houston County, a 41-year-old mother and her two children might be on the streets right now.
Erica, the single mom, didn’t want to give her last name, saying that people often are judgmental of others who are on the receiving end of assistance, and being stigmatized won’t help as she tries to improve her situation. She lost her home a few months ago after her full-time job was reduced to part time. She lost her benefits and took a big hit in salary. As a result, she told the leasing company for her apartment complex that she wasn’t able to pay the rent.
Someone in the leasing office put Erica in touch with Family Promise, the local branch of a national organization designed to help families with children with shelter and other necessities until they can get back on their feet financially.
“They saved my life,” Erica said. “They saved me and my kids from being out on the streets. ... The program kept us together as a family.”
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Last month, Family Promise celebrated its one-year anniversary in Houston County. It’s part of a national organization that has 190 affiliates across 41 states and the District of Columbia, including 12 in Georgia, network Director Nicole Rosser said. About 80 percent of the participants in Family Promise nationwide have gone on to find permanent housing.
“It’s really a program that’s set up for children with families,” Rosser said. “That’s one of the unique things about the program. We cater to families besides single mothers. We help single fathers, married couples, grandparents raising kids. (The reason help is necessary) could be because the loss of a job or that the families are underemployed. Someone could be coming to us because they’re suddenly homeless because of a house fire or a divorce. It’s usually some type of change in their family circumstance.”
Rosser said the organization has helped 14 families to date. She said it can be difficult to find families that need the assistance. Sometimes, feelings of pride will make family members go to a motel rather than seek assistance, despite the cost.
Family Promise is designed to work mostly with churches and other community organizations. The organization works with 13 host churches and another 10 support churches throughout Houston County.
The Rev. Mike Lyons of Trinity United Methodist in Warner Robins said his church was the first to join the partnership and will provide a Sunday School room to a family for a week. Each Sunday, the family will move from one host church to the next so that the burden is shared.
“We provide a clean environment, a safe environment,” Lyons said. “It’s awesome to have a collaboration among so many churches that are willing to do this. It’s such a pitiful thing to have these rooms that are only used one day a week.”
In addition to providing shelter, volunteers with the churches offer a host of other services that range from meals to offering guidance in helping a family member seeking a job.
Rosser said the support churches are usually too small to provide shelter for a family, but they are willing to help financially and with other resources and volunteers.
First United Methodist Church of Warner Robins, a support church, provides the building Family Promise uses for Rosser’s office and for living space during the day.
Need is great
Rosser said in addition to the church partnerships, the organization also works with the Houston County Board of Education to help more than 200 children within the school system who are homeless. Rosser said the number is likely higher because there are many cases in which a struggling family doesn’t seek help.
According to information provided by Family Promise, there are fewer than 100 shelter beds for the homeless in Houston County.
Erica said she went to several different organizations in Houston County for help, but for one reason or another, she was unable to obtain any assistance.
“They said their lists were closed or there was a long waiting list or that they only worked with seniors and the disabled,” she said. “There wasn’t anything for single moms and their children.”
Erica said her 14-year-old son was having a more difficult time adjusting to the weekly moves than her 7-year-old daughter, but she said both children understood that much of Erica’s stress has been alleviated since Family Promise took them in.
Erica said she’s actively seeking a full-time job, but she also will enroll at the Warner Robins campus of Middle Georgia State College. She already has an associate’s degree.
Having a temporary home “helps me stay focused,” she said. “I can focus on what I need to do, which is much better for me. It’s taken a lot of stress off me. Before, the children were getting the tail end of things. There would be yelling, or they’d see me cry. I was trying to stay above water, and then I just drowned.”
Rosser said that in addition to having children, there are other requirements that her organization examines before accepting a family.
Families can’t have any drug use, and they are subject to criminal background checks. Families also have to be actively seeking a job. The organization can serve up to four families, or 14 people, at one time.
“There’s a case plan we stick to,” she said. “We’re in constant communication with the families and keep track with what’s going on with them on a weekly basis. Most of the families that have come through here have been very successful. We’re looking for families who can utilize these resources and make it work.”
Vivian Stilley, a Family Promise board member who also worked with the organization in Dayton, Ohio, said the program has brought an awareness of the homeless problem to Houston County.
“We’re not judgmental,” she said. “There but for the grace of God go we. Most of us are one paycheck away from being homeless.”
Rosser said there’s no set timetable for a family to stay in the program. They stay as long as necessary.
“Our goal is not just to be a temporary solution, but offer long-term stability,” she said. “We want to identify what got them into this situation and help them follow a different path.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.