Monday, October 15, 2007

Family Promise

A few years ago, I hung up my collar and explored other vocational paths. One of these paths led me to being a staff member at a "transitional living center." This is a fancy name for a long-term homeless shelter. Our focus was on women and families. We only accepted those who were employable. Those with mental health or substance abuse issues were referred to other programs.

One of our requirements was that each resident be fully employed within thirty days of entering the program. To accomplish this, I taught an employment class. A part of this class was to help the residents see that taking a full-time minimum wage job was not going to solve their problems. Some basic math makes this clear;

Let's develop a survival budget; just the essentials to function daily in this society for one month;

700 rent
100 utilities (telephone is optional; this is for electricity and heat)
300 food (depending on the number and age of children, this may be low)
100 transportation (public; a car would triple this number)
1200 total

If they are making $7.00 an hour, and working 40 hours a week, their monthly income would be, before taxes, $1,260 (7 x 40 hrs. x 4.5 wks. = 1260). Note that the above budget is already in deficit once taxes are taken out, and does not include childcare, medical needs, or a clothing allowance.

One of the critical ways to alleviate poverty in this country is to pay workers a living wage, which I would suggest is a minimum of $10.00 an hour, but more realistically in the area of $12.00 an hour. Until we do this, we are going to continue to have to find ways to offer a hand up to those in need of shelter in our communities.

I currently serve in a somewhat rural area, surrounded by a number of urban centers. Consequently, the homeless are for the most part invisible. A shelter, or a "transitional living center" is probably not the best way to meet the needs of those in our area.

The local clergy have been discussing this matter for awhile. Our focus has started to zero in on Family Promise, also known as Interfaith Hospitality Networks. Here's a summation of the program:

The Interfaith Hospitality Network program brings shelter, meals, and support services to families without homes.

IHNs are a cost-efficient, effective, and replicable community response to family homelessness. Because they make use of existing community resources, they can be implemented quickly, without major start-up costs.

IHN programs vary from community to community, reflecting local needs and resources. However, there are five basic components to an IHN program.

1. Hosts
Hosting rotates weekly among the 10 to 12 host congregations in a Network. In turn, each host congregation provides lodging, three meals daily, and welcoming care.

2. Day Center
Guests use a local day center from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, where the IHN director, a professional social worker, provides case management services. There, guests pursue employment, tend pre-school children, shower, and do laundry. The day center provides guests with a mailing address and a base for housing and employment searches. Many guests are employed during the day, while older children attend school.

3. Volunteers
Volunteers provide various services:

Cooking and serving meals
Playing with children or helping them with homework
Interacting with guests, with respect and compassion

4. Social Service Agencies
Local social service agencies refer families to the Network. The agencies may also help guests find housing, jobs, and benefits.

5. Transportation
An IHN van transports guests to and from the day center. The van also carries bedding and luggage to the next host congregation.
I've met with the President of the organization, and am impressed with the program. I realize that it is to some degree "creaming the crop" by focusing only on homeless families, but I think it would be a good start. We will have our first organizational meeting this Thursday.

What do you know about this program? What other effective programs are you aware of?


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