Four times a year, St. Peter’s Anglican in Birmingham, AL transforms their classrooms into bedrooms, stocks the kitchen, and prepares for a week of guests. They’re one of 15 churches around the city that opens their doors to host homeless families working to get back on their feet, as part of Family Promise: a national organization helping families stay together during homelessness by working on a local level.
“The idea is to give them a real respite from all those expenses that you typically have,” says Bill Carroll, coordinator for the Family Promise outreach at St. Peter’s.
Often when facing homelessness, a family is separated: The children may go live with another family member, or a father may be in one shelter while the mother and children are in another. Family Promise is dedicated to keeping those families together, finding them housing, and helping them with any training or other social services they may need.
“Talk about stress… It’s difficult enough being without a home. I just couldn’t imagine being separated and not being able to lean on each other,” says Jan Hatchett, the St. Peter’s board representative for Family Promise of Birmingham. “As difficult as it is, they’re together.”
A social worker for Family Promise strictly screens prospective families, determining if a family is on the verge of needing housing, or if they can utilize other community resources to prevent becoming homeless. Once a family enters the program, they spend one week at each host church until they’re in a home of their own – which typically happens in about nine weeks. Those with employment can save their income instead of spending most of it on rent, utilities, and food.
“Just seeing how the whole process works, from day one all the way through total independence – they’re on their feet, they’ve got a job, they’ve got a place to live. That’s just one of my favorite parts, because you really see the fruit,” says Hatchett.
St. Peter’s just hosted a family during the week of January 15, with 60 adults and children volunteering with their guest family. The church provides all meals, transportation, beds, and showering facilities to host up to three families. Volunteers even stay the night at the church to be on hand in case of emergencies.
“It’s just a wonderful way to get so many people involved in an outreach, and an outreach that’s in your community. And you see that what you’re doing is making a difference,” says Hatchett.
St. Peter’s encourages volunteers to bring their children and grandchildren to take part. They regularly play with the kids being hosted, or invite them to come and join the youth group activities that may be going on at the time.
Caring for all the children is the most important part to Carroll. He notes that the impact is multiplied when the church’s children are included in serving children in need: “We’re hoping to raise up that next generation in a positive way, both our children and theirs.”
Family Promise serves 50,000 children and adults each year around the country through a structure of local affiliate congregations. Last year, Family Promise of Birmingham helped place 90% of its families in housing.
“There’s a sense of team in it. We’re called, I think, to give more than just our money. It’s a commitment that people make and I feel like it really helps bond the church together as a Christian family,” says Carroll.
“It’s what Jesus instructs us to do,” says Hatchett. “The blessing is in the doing.”
by Rachel Moorman, ADOTS Communications Associate (firstname.lastname@example.org)