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Carbon commissioners get close look at shelter life

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    The Carbon County Commissioners ate with families in the Family Promise shelter Friday night. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS

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    Sue Ann Gerhard, wife of Carbon County Commissioner Tom Gerhard, reads with a child staying in the Family Promise shelter program on Friday.

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    Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein talks with a resident of the Family Promise shelter care program during a visit Friday night.

Published January 16. 2019 11:56AM

Last year, volunteers with Family Promise of Carbon County contributed more than 10,000 volunteer hours to helping the homeless in our area.

Along the way, they helped more than a dozen families find their way into permanent housing, and taught skills which help the parents to secure jobs.

But officials say despite their success, shelter programs are losing funding each year to rapid rehousing programs. Family Promise officials recently invited elected officials to see the program firsthand.

“We can’t paint all shelters with the same brush. This program does work, we’re having an impact and we need to be funded,” said Tina Dowd, a member of the Family Promise board.

Carbon County Commissioners Wayne Nothstein and Tom Gerhard accepted the invitation and ate dinner along with three homeless families last week.

Family Promise uses a network of churches in the area which provide housing for the homeless families. There is currently a waiting list of more than 20 families.

While they are in shelter care, the organization’s executive director and social worker create goals, and they are required to remain drug-free. In 2017, the average family’s stay at the shelter was 54 days, and most of them went from the shelter into some kind of permanent housing.

“Fifty-four days they go from sleeping in their car, or on a friend’s couch, to we’re working on goals, sometimes they get jobs, we get them on the housing list,” Dowd said.

But funding is hard to come by. Dowd said a major problem is the fact that the state Department of Community and Economic Development has shifted resources away from shelters, and toward rapid rehousing programs. In one recent year, the group’s state funding dwindled to $9,000 from $37,000.

The commissioners joined Family Promise for the group’s daily family-style meal, cooked by volunteers for the residents of their shelter.

Commissioner Tom Gerhard said it was amazing to see firsthand what the organization is doing in the community. He credited the volunteers with providing the families with a place to sleep, food to eat and training to help get jobs.

“It’s good to know there are organizations like Family Promise that are there to help these people get back on their feet,” he said.

Gerhard said he was proud that the commissioners provided the organization with $3,000 in grant money in their last budget. But he said he would speak not only with his fellow commissioners but also elected officials in Harrisburg to see if they can do more.

“Maybe we can help these guys get some necessary funding to keep the program up and running,” he said.

Nothstein said he likes the Family Promise program because of the skills it teaches. He said families who complete the program must be willing to make their lives better.

“If they aren’t willing to do that, then maybe they don’t deserve all this support,” he said. “There are other families out there who need the support, and are willing to change their lives.”

Family Promise officials said it’s their goal to spread the word to more people about how their shelter, which they prefer to call a shelter care program, is different from what the typical shelter which the state is shifting funding away from. They say rapid rehousing is fine, but their program has a lot of value, too.

“Yes, they are in a shelter program, but they are getting skills they wouldn’t get if they were behind closed doors in a house,” Dowd said. “It’s a small period of time to be more successful in the long run.”

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