In Hope of a Home
According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, "a staggering 2.5 million children are . . . homeless each year in America." That's one in every 30 children in our country who, at some point in the year, are living in a car with their family, couch hopping, sleeping in a shelter, or even, as nightmarish as it sounds, on the streets. Gary and I know, from our work with the Christian Assistance Network, that homeless families can have a really difficult time getting back into a stable home. In much of the country, shelters focus on single men or women--and have no facilities available for families. And paying a security deposit and first month's rent is often beyond the scope of minimum wage earners.
Family Promise is one program that is successfully providing transitional housing to homeless families. By using a community-based model, it provides temporary housing in existing facilities, typically churches. Families in the program spend their nights in safe, secure spaces and their days in a day center. From the center, children can be transported to school and parents are assisted as they look for jobs and homes. Nearly 75% of the families who participate in Family Promise find long-term housing within 3 months.
The church we've begun attending in Wilmington, St. Andrews Covenant Presbyterian, is one of 13 churches in the city that commits to providing accommodations and meals for a week four times a year. Fortunately the church has a house just up the street--a bequest from a former parishioner--that we are able to use; sometimes families sleep on cots in church fellowship halls. Last week, I volunteered as we housed two families: a mom and dad with their four children, and a single mom and her son. I cooked dinner on Thursday evening for them--and enjoyed sharing the meal I'd prepared with the families and other volunteers. I also spent Saturday morning with them (the day center isn't open on the weekends, so church volunteers staff the house those two days). While I don't know the families' stories, I do know that the parents work full-time. They are simply struggling to pool enough resources to get into a home of their own. The children were delightful--I enjoyed reading to one little girl Saturday morning while I cuddled her 3-month old baby sister. I had an enlightening conversation with one of the moms after she offered grace before our evening meal. She is part of a group that focuses on intercessory prayer at her own church, and offered to pray for me and my family. I told her I would pray for her as well.
As always, when I spend time with the less-advantaged, I was struck with how much we have in common--not with our differences.
If you're interested in learning more about child homelessness in the U.S., see America's Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness from the National Center on Family Homelessness.