Church, rectory to be used as homeless shelter
Family Promise of Carbon County is looking to purchase the former St. Francis of Assisi Church and rectory in Nesquehoning. AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS
A Carbon County organization that aims to help homeless families is moving forward with a plan to open a new shelter location in Nesquehoning that would best serve its mission well into the future.
On Thursday morning, the Carbon County Commissioners held a public hearing regarding shifting $50,000 from the 2018 Community Development Block Grant project fund for Banks Township to Family Promise of Carbon County for help in the purchase of the former St. Francis of Assisi Church and rectory, located at 140 W. Mill St. in Nesquehoning. The cost for the property is $80,000.
The legal notice regarding the hearing, published in the Times News by the board of commissioners, states that Banks Township had been awarded $97,420 in 2018 for street improvements along three streets.
As a result of the shift, Family Promise will receive $50,000 to help in the purchase of the property with the goal of creating a housing unit for families, women and to provide case management services that will allow expanded shelter and day center services for the homeless.
Banks Township will then receive the $50,000 from the CDBG 2019 funds, as well as an additional $7,470 for the street project.
Tina Dowd, founding board member and current co-board chair of Family Promise, said that the acquisition of the church property will help in the organization’s overall mission.
“A new shelter location has been on the horizon for several years,” she said. “Our current location is not ADA accessible and is too small when we have a full slate of families, staff and interns making it difficult to find private spaces to counsel families.”
Nourishing God’s people
She said the board has been looking at various sites and met the Rev. Allen Hoffa, pastor of St. Joseph Parish of the Panther Valley, through the Carbon County Homelessness Task Force. Hoffa oversees the St. Francis property since that parish merged into St. Joseph.
Through discussions, Dowd said Family Promise learned that St. Francis was available.
“One of the principal functions of the church is to preach the gospel to the poor, especially through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy,” Hoffa said about the expected acquisition. “As a parish we have been significantly invested in this ministry through our St. Vincent de Paul Society. Providing food, clothing and other basic necessities. Helping to provide shelter to the homeless is a natural next step in the work God calls us to do as disciples.
“Of course for those who previously used this site as a house of worship, the change in use might be difficult. However, the buildings are still going to be used in like manner to their previous purpose: to nourish God’s people.”
In addition to the $50,000 Carbon County is earmarking for the sale, Family Promise has also applied for $31,500 in Local Share Account funds through the state to be used for the project.
According to the application for the grant, obtained through the Carbon County Planning Commission, Family Promise is hoping to create two additional positions with the move, help serve an additional three to five families and expand emergency shelter services to single women called The Promise Center. Until now, homeless services in Carbon County are available for single men and families, but not single women.
“The separate but adjacent buildings enable vulnerable families with small children to be kept separate from the single women who are also experiencing homelessness,” the application states.
Dowd said that Family Promise currently has nine congregations willing to host families, but its current model requires 13 congregations to operate efficiently.
“The acquisition of the rectory is the saving grace needed for the program,” she said.
The new site will move the organization to a hybrid static site model, rather than a rotational model, Dowd said, meaning that participating congregations will have the option to host families at their location or have the families remain at the Nesquehoning rectory and staff and volunteer organizations rotate responsibilities for meal sharing and fellowship time at the site.
“This model gives us the flexibility to recruit businesses, civic groups and other volunteers to take responsibility for one of the open host weeks not currently filled by our nine participating churches,” Dowd said. “These groups would host at the static location. The families would stay in one place but the responsibility of providing for their needs would still rotate among willing community groups.
“We are excited about the prospect of opening a new avenue for volunteers,” she added.
Moving forward, Hoffa said he is happy to see the former church building continue to serve the people of Carbon County.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with Family Promise,” he said. “This isn’t just about a building, it’s about people and their human dignity. As we endeavor upon this transition I also see it as an opportunity to educate the larger community and to witness to what the Catholic faith is truly about.
“The education piece to really about the real root and reality of homelessness and the real witness is that we serve others because we are Catholic, not because they are. Jesus would never turn away those who are considered ‘least’ by society because he is in each one of them. So again at the end of the day the ‘what’ and ‘who’ in this process is: Serving Jesus in our brothers and sister made by God.”
Family Promise of Carbon County was formed in 2009 to meet the need of homeless families in the county and has an 85% success rate in helping families find long term, stable, permanent housing.
In 2018, the organization oversaw 9,604 volunteer hours served helping the homeless, served 4,587 meals and provide 2,947 bed nights, totaling over $372,000 in in-kind services to their clients.