Family Promise offers way out of homelessness

CONYERS -- A new local effort has started that would connect local churches to help homeless families take the first steps to get back on their feet and into their own home.

Family Promise of NewRock offers churches the chance to make a impact in people's lives with minimal resources. All they ask is for a space at the church for people to sleep.

"Don't think of it as a homeless shelter that keeps people off the streets," said Mike Hutchenson, executive director of the Rockdale Coalition for Children and Families. "It does, but it's more."

Family Promise works by having a church host a family for seven days. They are put up inside a church for a place to sleep. During the day the children go to school and the parents go to a case worker who determine their needs and find ways to help them out of their homeless situation.

For Rockdale and Newton counties, the target group is single mothers with children. A telling statistic is that Rockdale County Public Schools has identified 202 homeless children attending classes this year.

Hutchenson explained during a presentation to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County last week that many people who are homeless in Rockdale and Newton counties are homeless because of a job loss or a sudden illness.

"You don't see them living under a bridge or on the streets," he said. "They may be doubling up at a friend's house. They may be living in their cars and that was just the case with one mother and her daughter we learned about recently."

A network of churches takes turns to host a family. Family Promise will move the family to another host church each week until more permanent housing is found. An idea network is made up of 13 host congregations. Hutchenson said he has commitments from six local churches -- Smyrna Presbyterian, Life Church, Epiphany Lutheran, Oasis of Hope Church of God, St. Pius X Catholic Church and Conyers United Methodist.

Hutchenson is recruiting other congregations in both counties for the network in hopes of providing services to the first family before the end of this year.

The local Family Promise is the latest network formed from a national outreach organization that was founded in 1986 in New Jersey. To date, Family Promise has established 153 affiliates in 40 states using services provided by more than 130,000 volunteers and 5,000 congregations.

The Family Promise of NewRock is in partnership with the recently opened Phoenix Pass for transitional housing and Habitat for Humanity. Hutchenson said the plan is to help families qualify for services offered by Phoenix Pass, which can provide an apartment for up to two years and counseling.

If they meet the criteria, families can also move to Habitat for Humanity to build a new house. The organization has built 32 houses locally and has property available for new housing.

Hutchenson described the effort as "a hand up, not a hand out." Applicants will be expected to work toward the goal of being self-sufficient to provide for their own basic needs.

"To me, it's very exciting to take someone off the streets and put them in a house and be able to sustain that home on their own," he said.

For more information, go to www.familypromiseofnewrock.org or e-mail fpnewrock@gmail.com.