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Coming together to help homeless families
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Have you ever thought of what it means to be homeless?

There is great uncertainty. There is a high risk of danger. Particularly when children are involved, you can imagine the anxiety of the adults responsible for them.

There are several ways to deal with the issue. One is a permanent shelter such as the Garden of Gethsemane on Turner Lake Circle. But it has it limits and is the only permanent shelter in a five country area. Another approach is to pay the hotel expenses but this can prove to be very costly. Some families live in their cars or “camp out” in vacant areas.

There remains great need that must be dealt with. According to a recent article in Georgia Trend the homeless population in our state was 16,947 in 2013. This count does not include the 17,151 in shelters in Georgia.

A little over three years ago a group of churches organized a unit in Newton and Rockdale Counties call “Family Promise of New Rock.” Its mission is “building communities, strengthening lives.” Since that start in November of 2011, 141 have been helped including 98 children. They are affiliated with the Interfaith Hospitality Network known as Family Promise.

For over 25 years across the country, Family Promise has been giving families a safe place to stay and hope for the future. Now found in forty one states as well as the District of Columbia, there are almost two hundred affiliated units operating. This means last year over 50,000 children and adults found shelter. There are 5,500 congregations involved with more than 150,000 volunteers serving.

The New Rock Family Promise includes congregations that are Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Non-denominational Evangelicals, and Presbyterians. Thirteen are host congregations where the guests spend the week, and the others are supporting congregations that provide volunteers and meals.

One of the host churches is Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford. Four times a year for a week they receive up to fourteen guests. When proposing for Allen Memorial to be a part of the net work the Pastor, the Rev. Max Vincent, reminded the leaders of his church of the mission statement for the United Methodist Church, “To make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and challenged them saying “empty buildings do not make disciples.”

Congregations that help support the work of the Promise at Allen Memorial are Grace, Rust, and Starrsville United Methodist Churches. For a typical week, each congregation will provide one of the dinners and volunteers that help with the evening or night shifts.

Have you ever thought that a lot of capital is invested in church buildings? Finding creative and meaningful ways to use them during the week is a real plus. Family Promise is a very cost effective way to provide shelter for families. The “brick and mortar” is already in place and add in the volunteers and minimal utility cost and you are up and running.
The New Rock Family Promise owns a fifteen passenger van to give transportation to the guest. The Van picks them up at the host church at 7:00 a.m. and takes the children either to their school or the Day Center. Adults who are not working also go to the Day Center. Every effort is made to keep each child in the school they were attending before they entered Family Promise. There is a case worker who works with each family seeking to enter the program. Help is available to prepare each family for their next steps. When the time comes for the guest to leave the program, sixty percent of those leaving the program leave to go to permanent housing. The goal is to offer a leg up not a hand out. Each participating family must have at least one child under the age of18.

The guests return from work or the day center at 6 p.m. where a dinner is waiting. After dinner there are volunteers to help with home work, or the writing of resumes, or to help as they can with each family. Each family has their own room which they can retire to and leave their stuff secured during the week. Usually lights are out by 10 p.m. for a new day will start at 6 a.m. with a light breakfast. Saturday, of course is different, and is a time for the families to catch up with what they need to do.

On Sundays the sixteen beds are moved from the church that has hosted the past week and delivered to the Church starting its week. Also the family possessions are delivered to the new host church. Each church has its own linens and other supplies that are needed. It takes about fifty volunteers for an average week.

If you or your faith community would like to be involved call Family Promise of New Rock at 770-262-7816. Jackie Sprague is the Executive Director. What one cannot do alone, we can do together.

B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.