Program helps homeless families stick together

February 20, 2018

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — Sarah popped into the doorway of a dining area that was doubling as a conference room at the Family Promise Day Center Tuesday morning.

She has a part-time job but was looking for full-time work as a medical assistant so she can get an apartment for herself and her two children.

As one of three single mothers with children under 16 staying with Family Promise of Central Connecticut, Sarah, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is offered a secure place to sleep each night with her children, ages 11 and 13, and case management to connect her with the services that will get her back on her feet.

The program, which started in March, is one of a handful across the state that keeps families intact while they work their way out of homelessness, said Board President Kara Russell.

Each night, families stay together at an area host congregation that provides a place to do homework, engage in fellowship, eat and sleep.

The families spend one week at one of 10 area host congregations before rotating to the next. Another eight congregations provide support by cooking meals and other essentials.

When she’s not working, Sarah can spend time at the Day Center on Cornelius Way brainstorming with case manager Nate Fox on job and apartment options that will lead to permanent independence.

The Day Center provides a place for the families to shower, do laundry, get access to services and relax before they head off to their accommodations at night, said Russell, a Central Connecticut State University adjunct English professor who was instrumental in bringing the Family Promise to Connecticut.

“An equally important part of the program is what’s happening from 4:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the army volunteers kick in,” Russell said. “They are meeting the three most pressing needs of homeless families. Where are my kids going to sleep? What are they going to eat? And how are we going to get there?”

For Russell and a contingent of volunteers, it’s been a four-year process to get program up and running.

They are nonprofit and do not rely on state or federal funding. That means the organization must raise $130,000 to pay for operating expenses each year.

Since the clients are housed free at night at area congregations that provide volunteers, the organization can help homeless families get back on their feet for a fraction of the cost of traditional emergency shelters.

“We are so proud of this blue dot,” indicating the facility is officially running, Russell said, pointing to a map of all 200 or so Family Promise programs throughout the country.

But she and Fox admit that it isn’t always easy.

Some families come with simple problems that are solved by being given a few-month stay to save for rent.

Others have complicated issues that need to be sorted out, Fox said. In one case a mother had to return to the doctor five times with her child to get the proper immunizations for school and day care.

None of the families have a history of domestic violence or drug use.

Unless they have their own transportation, each morning the families board a van from the host congregation to the day center in time to take showers for work and school.

They get a ride back to the congregation at 4:30 p.m.

The clients must have a child under 16 and must provide their own day care if they work during the day and the child is not in school.

The families can include a mother and a father, two mothers, or a combination of family as long as there is one child under 16 who is connected to each family member.

The reality is that since it officially opened in March, it’s been mostly single mothers who are trying to stabilize their lives by finding work that will bring in enough pay to support a family in housing of their own.

“One of the goals of the program is no recidivism,” Russell said. “The goal is to be able to sustain self-sufficiency.”

The demand for safe housing is so great that the organization has been getting calls from people displaced by fires and building condemnations to see if there is room for more families.

It’s been a godsend, said Sarah, who lost her apartment in the fall after a divorce and a bout with depression.

“I am thankful for this program and to be able to have this day house where we can have a home until 5 p.m. each day,” the 33-year-old said.

But she is also aware that her daughter is struggling with the shame she feels about being homelessness.

Sarah has opted not to reveal her “secret life” to many of her friends.

“I’m qualified and certified but I need a job,” she said. “I would never want to be back in this position.”


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Information from: New Britain Herald, http://www.newbritainherald.com

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