What is family homelessness and why is it a critical issue?
Family homelessness is often referred to as an “invisible crisis.” The parents and children experiencing it are less likely to be seen on the streets than chronically homeless individuals or homeless veterans. Parents most often attempt to stay hidden from sight, for fear that their children will be taken from them if identified as homeless by child protective services. They can be found living in their cars, staying week-to-week in unsafe motels, or doubled up temporarily with friends or family. But, although not visible, they are the faces of a national crisis.
Simply put, we have a severe shortage of affordable housing in America, exacerbated by rising rents and stagnant wages. Low-income families have little or no margin of error, and one misstep can lead to homelessness. Two and a half million children will experience homelessness this year in America—one in every 30. 35% of the entire homeless population in the United States is comprised of families with children, more than half of whom are under the age of six. Children without safe and secure homes are not playing on a level field with their peers. They have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems, increased risk of serious health issues, and perform significantly worse in school.
These children run the very real risk of following in their parents’ footsteps; a new generation of homeless adults, unable to earn a living wage or afford secure homes. If we cannot effectively address this issue as a nation today, the societal costs tomorrow will be staggering.
What is the Family Promise Affiliate model?
Family Promise organizes houses of worship, social services agencies, nonprofits, and other local organizations to work together to provide a truly holistic response to families experiencing homelessness and at-risk families.
Because we utilize existing community resources, we are able to provide services at 1/3 the cost of traditional shelters. Typically, 10-13 houses of worship agree to provide shelter, meals, and hospitality to families for a week at a time on a rotating basis. Congregations provide shelter space and volunteers cook meals, play with children, and share their professional skills with families in the program. A Day Center serves as a base where families can take showers, do laundry, obtain childcare, receive extensive case management, and search for housing and jobs. A van transports guests to and from the Day Center each morning and evening, as well as taking children to school.
The key to Family Promise’s success is community engagement. What started as one woman’s response to meeting a homeless woman on the streets of New York City has grown into a national movement comprising more than 200 Affiliates and 200,000 volunteers across 43 states. Since our founding we have served nearly one million family members: one Affiliate, one congregation, one volunteer at a time.
Family Promise often works with congregations. Is there a religious aspect to the organization?
Family Promise is a secular organization.
However, because of the religious community’s mandate to serve, and the fact that they typically have space available during the week, Affiliates utilize houses of worship from all faiths as shelter space for families. Many members of host congregations serve as volunteers for the Affiliate during their congregation’s host week. By working together in a network, an Affiliate’s congregations are strengthened as people of different faiths unite to work for a better community for all.
Is Family Promise a homeless shelter?
Yes…and so much more.
We began thirty years ago as the Interfaith Hospitality Network and our core program was shelter. But over the years, as we have added new Affiliates, and existing Affiliates matured, we have continued developing a broad array of programs to serve low-income families and families experiencing homelessness. In 2003, we changed our name to Family Promise, more reflective of our ever-broadening scope. The name speaks to the promise we make to every family we serve, but also to the promise that is inherent in every family.
Our model comprises preventative initiatives for families who are in danger of losing their homes, food, shelter, and case management to those who are experiencing homelessness, and stabilization programs to ensure that the independence of the families who have secured housing after leaving the program is sustainable.
Today, we are the leading national organization addressing family homelessness.
Do you only serve families and what is your definition of family?
In our shelter programs, we serve primarily families with children. However, many Affiliates have additional programs that are able to serve many populations beside families. Keeping families together is one of Family Promise’s priorities, and we define a family as any adults(s) with a custodial relationship with children. This includes families of all compositions and can include multi-generational families.
Do you only serve the homeless population?
In our shelters, by definition, those we serve are experiencing homelessness. However, since our work also focuses on the prevention of homelessness, and the stabilization of people at risk or who have experienced homelessness, many of the people we serve would not be defined as homeless at the time at which we serve them. That is the point—if you treat homelessness as a spectrum and can support families and individuals before and after they experience homelessness, you can effect permanent change.
How do you find families housing and what is your success rate at helping them stay housed?
Families are empowered to become sustainably housed. Family Promise staff and volunteers assist in many ways, including helping families address impediments like past evictions, creating relationships with local landlords, and identifying various housing options. Because of this intensive and community-based approach, families have a high percentage of success. 77% of families we serve move into permanent or, too a much lesser extent, transitional housing. An additional 11% secure reliable shared housing.
How is my donation used?
Family Promise’s national office provides programming and support for homeless and low-income families in 200+ communities across the country. We work multi-locally to identify leaders committed to combating family homelessness and create Affiliates who serve families. Once an Affiliate is established, we provide ongoing programmatic, strategic, and technological assistance. 82% of our funding goes directly to programs to prevent homelessness, shelter families, and stabilize them long-term. We’ve received Charity Navigator’s highest rating of 4-stars for seven consecutive years, an honor only 6% of U.S. charities achieve. A donor’s support is a direct investment in families at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
The largest percentage of funding comes from individual donors, who get to know Family Promise through volunteer efforts and fundraising events. Our donor base is committed to introducing new friends to Family Promise and are often engaged in events and campaigns to raise funds and awareness. Our corporate partners, in addition to providing major funding, rally employees to offer skills-based volunteering and programs that capitalize on their market expertise. Foundations also invest in Affiliate development and in programs such as Family Wellness and Homelessness Prevention. Congregations and civic organizations support Family Promise financially in addition to providing people-power. We receive government funding for local efforts, not at the national level.
How can I volunteer?
Volunteers play an essential role in helping families experiencing homelessness attain sustainable independence. Each year, 200,000 compassionate volunteers help Family Promise serve more than 90,000 children and adults.
To get started on the path of volunteering, you simply need to visit: https://volunteer.familypromise.org/. There you’ll be able to indicate your preferred location(s) and volunteer activities. After that, you will be connected to an Affiliate that matches your interests and provided additional details.
How can my company get involved?
Whether it is by serving as a Board member, participating in a group team-building activity or providing remote, one-on-one job coaching, our corporate volunteers are committed to helping low-income families and those experiencing homelessness. We partner with companies of all sizes and across all industries nationwide. Through customizable opportunities, corporate volunteers share their time and talents to change the future for thousands of children annually.
Contact our corporate volunteering team to find out how your company’s employees can bring joy to families in need.