A New Year’s message from Family Promise CEO Claas Ehlers

January 4, 2019

Happy New Year! As we turn the calendar, let us take a moment to reflect upon where we have been and what we have accomplished.

This past year marked the 30th Anniversary of Family Promise as a national organization. In 1988, we started as the National Interfaith Hospitality Network with a handful of Affiliates in just a few counties, addressing a widespread yet often invisible problem: family homelessness.

We now enter our fourth decade. By the year 2020, we will have served approximately one million people. We will have presence in nearly every state.

That is something to celebrate.

Unfortunately, however, family homelessness remains a critical issue nationwide—2.5 million children will experience homelessness this year. And these children and their parents are still largely an invisible population: sleeping in their cars, living night-to-night in motels, or doubling up on the couches of friends or family.

It seems at times intractable. For every family that has long-term success, we know there are many more we can’t serve.

Let me make two points to that:

  •  Our model of community-based support, client-focused services, and holistic empowerment works amazingly well. It simply cannot match the scope of the problem right now.
  •  In 1988, who thought the Soviet empire would crumble and that Apartheid would end?

Yet both happened. We can solve family homelessness.

Community members of our Affiliate in Lawrence, KS.

As I look at our 200+ Affiliates nationwide and their ability to change lives, I am struck that so many have increased the number of people served, sometimes 50% or 70% in one year. Where a few years ago we had a handful of Affiliates running an extensive spectrum of services, we now see dozens of Affiliates magnifying their impact. A growing number head their Continuums of Care, drive major collaborative programs, and serve as the leading local voice on the issue of family homelessness.

We are very proud of these accomplishments. While Family Promise National continues to develop new Affiliates in communities with desperate need and few resources, our focus has shifted to broadening and deepening the services existing Affiliates provide. Our key message is: Family Promise is not shelter; it is a holistic solution to family homelessness. That solution involves preventing homelessness, serving those in crisis, and stabilizing those who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of experiencing it.

This is what we have done this past year to support that:

1. Working with partners, we have secured nearly a million dollars for Affiliates to expand and support services, through Help Us Move In (HUMI), Woodforest, the Partners in Housing program with Prosperity Now, PetSmart Charities, Belk, and more.

2. We have expanded the volunteer pool for Affiliates through corporate and civic collaborations and tools like our Volunteer Portal. Drawing in more people, particularly from outside the faith community, strengthens Affiliates and creates greater awareness and advocacy.

Kat Lilley testified in support of HCYA last year.

3. We have taken a lead role on the Homeless Children and Youth Act    (HCYA) and other policy elements. We    are speaking truth to power about the extent of family homelessness and the need to drive innovative and local solutions.

4. We have stepped forward in thought leadership, putting a spotlight on family homelessness and working with organizations like Sesame Street to create understanding and move people to action.

5. We have strategically added programming to amplify the impact of Affiliates, including HUMI, micro-entrepreneurship, Keys to Good Tenancy, and more.

6. We have expanded the communication of best practices by growing our Guest Advisory Council and empaneling the Affiliate Council.

But we have much more to accomplish in 2019. Here are some of the ways we will do that:

1. Additional corporate partnerships: One with Clayton Homes and another with a national corporation to be revealed soon. Our partnerships bring Affiliates funding, products, and volunteers which benefit the families we serve.

2. Expanded metrics: Numbers tell stories and we will be using Family Promise’s numbers to better define family homelessness and the incredible impact Affiliates have.

3. National programs that ensure all Affiliates have the best practices and support to run prevention and diversion programs and stabilization programs, including financial capability, life skills, workforce development, and trauma informed care.

4. Volunteer management and training tools to optimize our most valuable resource.

5. Continued awareness campaigns through social media and thought leadership.

6. Our National Conference, which will feature Rev. Dr. William Barber II as keynote speaker, the engagement of Sesame Street and StoryCorps, the unveiling of new initiatives and partnerships, and more.

Our goal at Family Promise is simple: By the year 2030, we will change the future for one million children.    Everything we do today is to support that goal, helping Affiliates excel as community-based innovators.

Currently, we serve fewer than 3 percent of all homeless children nationally. As we serve more and more children and families, however, our overall impact multiplies. Every child who is housed increases awareness, engagement, and action. With more expansive Affiliates, broader volunteer engagement, and continued innovation, when we double the number of children we serve in a few years, we will have an impact that far surpasses just the increase in lives changed. We will truly start to shift the immovable object that family homelessness seems to be.

We aim to change the future of 1 million children by 2030.

Looking back to 1988, we know the Berlin Wall of family homelessness will not come tumbling down. But we do know that, brick by brick, Family Promise is dismantling it.

Yes, it is hard work. But the rewards are immeasurable. Ensuring families do not experience the trauma of homelessness is why we do it.

I wish you a very joyous New Year. Working together, we can change the futures of children nationwide.

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