Being homeless for the holidays is sad, but because of Family Promise of Carbon County, some of these families are having their Exodus transformed into an adventure.
Family Promise, a nonprofit organization committed to helping low-income families achieve lasting independence, began organizing a Carbon County affiliate in 2009, and three weeks ago began offering its services, initially to three families consisting of three adults and seven children.
This week, two of the three families are being hosted by All Faiths Tabernacle, a peace-centered fellowship founded by lay leader John Drury that meets in the Mauch Chunk Museum Ballroom in Jim Thorpe. The third family is visiting with family for the holidays.
"Family Promise is a national organization that helps homeless children and their families go from a transition position into a stable or sustainable environment," explained Tom Cioffi, a member of Family Promise's national board, who came to Carbon County in 2009.
"They do that with the use of congregations, letting the congregations volunteer their space, their people, and their time to feed, fellowship and spend the night at the congregations while the network of the local organization itself has a case manager that works with the families during the day."
Family Promise was started in 1986 by Karen Olsen, who, after passing the homeless many times, one day befriended a homeless woman, buying her a sandwich. One thing led to another and soon, Olsen came up with an idea to help homeless families – she called it Family Promise.
Nationally, over 150 Family Promise affiliates help over 50,000 people a year, with an average family staying with them for 58 days until a more permanent job and housing situation can be arranged.
To get Family Promise of Carbon County started, 13 supporting congregations needed to be recruited that would have one congregation active for one week, four times a year. Last week, over the Christmas holiday, Christ Lutheran in Penn Forest, the second congregation in the Family Promise network, provided the hospitality.
This week, until Sunday evening on New Year's Day, the families are at All Faiths Tabernacle.
John Drury set up All Faiths Tabernacle to accept the guests. His congregation purchased cabana tents and some furnishings for the tents that were setup in the Mauch Chunk Ballroom. Air mattresses and bedding were packed on the van that moved them between congregations on Sunday.
Following their night at the museum, for their first full day, because there was no school this week, the families left at 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. and were taken by van to a day center in Lehighton. Were it a school week, the children would have been picked up by a school bus from the center and return at the end of the school day. At the center, the parents work on looking for a job and permanent housing.
At the end of the day on Monday, the van returned the two families to the Mauch Chunk Museum where David Holmes and Connie Cunningham had brought in a home-cooked chili dinner. On other nights, Sandy Spear, Ed Moran, Vince Smith, and Kathy Ruff are helping with the food and accommodations. Kathy Ruff worked with a helper congregation, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, which supplied the initial funding for and purchase of the food for the week.
How did families find themselves needing the help of Family Promise?
To begin with, homelessness is a huge problem, but a problem that is so close to us that many cannot see it. Those who are homeless are reluctant to talk about it.
They are embarrassed, even if they are homeless through no fault of their own. With the current triple threats of high unemployment, unaffordable health care, and a tsunami of foreclosures, a single missed-step could turn a middle-class family into a homeless family.
This was the case with each of the families at Family Promise.
The first family owned a house in Jim Thorpe, was remodeling the house, and had renegotiated for a loan modification to a lower interest rate. After paying the mortgage at the lower rate for two months, the family was notified that the lower payments were refused, and the house was foreclosed and sold at a sheriff's sale for a fraction of its value, not much more than the several months' mortgage payments that the bank had refused.
There's a chance that the bank may have falsely foreclosed on the family. Meanwhile, the family is homeless, without an address to put on a job application, draining their life's savings, and before Family Promise, paying twice as much for temporary rental apartments than for their combined mortgage and taxes.
The second family rented a house in Jim Thorpe, and paid their rent on schedule. Only, the owner of the house didn't pay the mortgage on the house that the family rented. When the house was foreclosed, the family was evicted, and as renters, they had no standing in the action.
The families are thankful that Family Promise has taken them in, although the camping-out experience is novel and starting to wear thin. The parents hope to find a job, find an apartment, and reestablish their lives.
That is the hope of Family Promise.
To learn more about Family Promise of Carbon County, see familypromisecarboncounty.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (610) 379-4757. To learn more about All Faiths Tabernacle fellowship, contact John Drury (570) 325-9375, or email email@example.com.