Q&A with Nicole Rosser
Occupation: Director, Family Promise of Greater Houston County
Q: How many years has Family Promise done Car City?
A: This will be our fourth. Family Promise started in Houston County in 2013 and we’ve done Car City right from the start.
Q: What is Family Promise’s purpose?
A: To work to end homelessness one family at a time. We help families regain sustainable livelihoods and self-sufficiency by mobilizing congregations and partnering with social service agencies. It’s not an entitlement program but a way for people and families to give a hand to families in need.
Q: What is Car City? What’s the point?
A: We invite individuals and families to spend a night with us in their cars to experience a small degree of what it might be like to be homeless. It’s a chance to learn about homelessness plus it’s our primary fundraiser each year. People, groups, businesses and others are donating at this time at different levels toward the work we do.
Q: When and where is this year’s Car City?
A: It starts around 6 p.m. this Friday, Sept. 29, in the parking lot of Central Georgia Technical College. That’s at 80 Cohen Walker Dr. It goes through the night until about 7 a.m. Saturday.
Q: Can people still come and be involved at the last minute if they haven’t donated or signed up? Can they just show up?
A: They can, yes. Anyone is still welcome to come, and of course we’d love for them to donate, but still we want them to come and stay for a little while or through the night. We hope they’ll learn something.
Q: How does Car City work? What can people expect?
A: We’re geared toward families, so it’s definitely a family-friendly event. The focus is to experience sleeping in your car but we’ll also have different entertainment, a movie with popcorn, celebrities, bounce houses for the kids, our big scavenger hunt and things like that. And food. The food is in the form of a bread line with soup, but we add some really nice desserts. It’s all geared toward raising awareness of the homeless epidemic right in our county.
A: Right here and across the country. We’ve been operating for four years here and have already reached the milestone of the 100th child to come through our program with their family. That says a lot to me. The latest figure I’ve gotten from the Houston County Board of Education is that last year 364 students were classified as homeless. That’s just school-age children. Statistics show for every child you count there’s more siblings at home. Now those aren’t all children living out on the streets; some are, but many are with other families in houses that aren’t theirs, are in shelters, are sleeping in vehicles, living in hotels and similar situations.
Nationally, about 60 percent of the homeless family population are children and 50 percent of those children are under 6. At 40 percent of the total homeless population, families are the fastest growing segment. That’s our focus. You have to be a family to enter our 90-day program. You can be parents and children, a single parent and children, a grandparent and grandchildren, an aunt keeping relatives or any form like that, but it has to be a family with children.
Q: So your hope is to give people a night of homelessness to stir compassion as well as raise funds?
A: Even though spending the night in a parking lot with others isn’t anything like real homelessness, it makes you think.
Q: Think what?
A: Even though you know you can go home, you’re still more aware of things like — number one — am I safe? Then where can I go to the bathroom? All my stuff in my car, will it get stolen? What will I do if — ? It brings up all kinds of things that constantly wear on the homeless. Add to that, are my children safe? How can I take care of them like this? How will we eat? How can we get ahead and get out of this situation? That’s what Family Promise is good at helping. Partner congregations let families stay nights in their facilities for a week at a time. During the day they operate out of our day center and children go to school and parents either work or work at getting work. This way they can save, get ahead and prepare to move on to a stable situation. We provide help with different aspects along the way.
Q: How can people find out more or get involved?
A: Our website is at www.familypromisehoustonco.org. There’s contact information, lists of current activities and needs and other information. You know, I want to add people often have the wrong idea about what a homeless person looks like. Really, it may actually be the person sitting next to us at work or church. What is it they say: most of us are just one or two paychecks away from disaster? That’s true for many families, and we all know disasters happen.
All kinds of things lead to homelessness, not just irresponsibility or addictions. It can be health issues, loss of a provider in the family, cutbacks at work and other dynamics. And we think because Houston County as a whole is doing so well there’s not a problem here, but there is. Look at the numbers. We can just be blind to it. We hope people come to Car City. You never know when you might need the information or may need to pass it along to someone. If you can’t spend the night, come spend an hour.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.