|Homeless numbers grow locally|
|Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor|
|Tuesday, 06 March 2012 10:37|
The annual count of homeless residents in the area shows more people without shelter. The count, conducted on Jan. 24, found 307 individuals homeless that day in Wood, Sandusky, Ottawa and Seneca counties, compared to 294 in 2011.
Of that number, 180 had no shelter, 94 were in transitional housing and 33 were in emergency shelters. Five were veterans, according to WSOS Community Action Commission.
In reponse to this need, local community leaders are considering a program used across the nation called Family Promise.
Through the program, homeless families are finding safe places to sleep in buildings that often go unused much of the week - churches.
So community leaders, concerned about families sleeping in cars or sharing couches, are looking at churches as partners in reaching out to homeless families.
Rev. Loran Miracle, president of the board of trustees of Family Promise of Greater Toledo, cautioned that anyone who didn't think they could someday be homeless was just kidding themselves.
"We have church buildings empty at night and there are kids sleeping in cars," Miracle said. "Our goal is really to break the cycle of homelessness."
To explore a program operated successfully in other areas, the Wood County homeless task force recently listened to a presentation on "Family Promise." The program unites local churches to offer shelter and meals to families on a rotating basis.
"I definitely think it's worth exploring," said Don Neifer, head of the local organization looking for solutions to homelessness. "I think it could work."
Though the effort involves churches, the goal is not spiritual, but rather to meet the needs of shelter and food.
"It seems like a far better way to treat folks," Neifer said of the Family Promise program that lets individual families stay together in church rooms, instead of housing males and females separately.
"I'm sold on the idea," Neifer said.
However, the project would take a lot of commitment by local churches and their congregations. The next step will be to hold a meeting with area church representatives to present the idea.
Family Promise works by using existing space at churches, rather than building or renting a shelter, described Elizabeth Tore, regional director of the national program. Ideally about 13 churches would be involved, with each taking a week on a rotating basis. During that week, the church and its volunteers would provide meals in the evenings and mornings to an average of four to five families. Classrooms would be turned into family bedrooms at night, with portable cots or inflatable mattresses being provided by the program.
During the day, families would leave the church, with children going to school and adults going to a "day center" to work with a case manager on finding jobs, housing, managing finances or other skills. The day center could be housed in a church with extra space.
According to Tore, there is an increasing need for emergency shelter, especially in rural areas, "where homelessness is more hidden. We know they're here even if they're not being counted."
The goal is to provide the families with a "soft landing after a hard day," she explained. "The job of the congregations is to love the families wherever they are."
Smaller churches which may not have space to offer, may offer volunteer support to larger congregations.
Tore emphasized the job of the churches is "hospitality," which includes meals, warmth, safety and dignity.
"It really is a movement that has to have the backing of congregations or it isn't going to work," she said.
There are currently 174 affiliates of Family Promise operating in 41 states. In 2010, nearly 50,000 people were served, with 57 percent being children. The average length of stay was 65 days.
When leaving the program, 60 percent had secured permanent housing, and another 16.4 percent had found transitional housing.
"Homelessness is something people experience. It does not define them," Tore said.
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