See a need, fill a need

It’s a simple solution to a serious problem — where there is room available, offer space to a homeless family. See a need, fill a need.

That’s the principle behind a new organization underway in Juneau, Family Promise, an interfaith hospitality network that takes families off the streets and ushers them into stable housing.

“We have so many church buildings that are empty at night, so how do we use those buildings that already exist?” asked Shepherd of the Valley Pastor Tari Stage-Harvey.

Stage-Harvey, one of the program organizers, said she’s seen this service in other parts of the nation turn things around for families, including one out of the Mat-Su region. She said it is the kind of alternative to traditional short-term shelters Juneau needs.

The program, which is estimated to launch in August 2016, works using a network of church-based homes where families can stay at night and enjoy company during family meals. It’s a way to experience people as people instead of an issue, Stage-Harvey said.

A central day center for other activities such as collecting mail, doing laundry and storing personal belongings are also part of the program.

Community members and church leaders interested in learning about the program can attend a fundraiser and information session today at Chapel by the Lake at 11024 Auke Lake Way. From 4:30-6:30 p.m., Randy’s Rib Shack will serve food as program directors answer questions. There is a suggested donation of $10 for guests and children under 6 are free.

Jennifer Carson, a director with Catholic Community Service and a Family Promise organizer, said the event is an introduction to Family Promise, the ways to get involved and to answer questions.

The thing to make clear, Carson said, is despite the program’s interfaith alliance, their mission isn’t to target people with religious ties or focus on conversions. It’s about hospitality and using resources that already exist in the community to offer a support system, not a temporary solution.

“We know that St. Vincent (de Paul Society) is really the only other place for homeless families to go and they have a huge wait-list,” Carson said. “Then there are other families in tents, on the streets or couch surfing.”

Stage-Harvey said when the program is up and running, an estimated 15 people at a time will stay at one church for approximately four weeks, then rotate within the church network, but always with a stable day-center to rely on. The 15 people could make up two, three or however many families based on the various family structures.

Carson said the program would also take in any family unit — same-sex parents with children, single parents with children or non-traditional guardians caring for a child. The only major factors screened for are domestic violence or drug abuse.

A day center not tied to one church would serve as a hub where things like laundry can be done or mail could be collected. The idea, Stage-Harvey said, is it all creates an environment where people can regroup from whatever has displaced them from a stable home, and sometimes that starts with something as simple as having an address to put on a job application and to collect mail.

“There are so many misconceptions,” Stage-Harvey said. “It’s not just emergency shelter. People aren’t going to just come off the streets, it’s an intentional effort by both parties; we work with budgeting and just offer that model for ushering families into housing.”

Stage-Harvey said the estimated average stay of a family within the program would be 90 to 120 days and also involves time spent with a case manager dedicated to finding permanent housing for families.

The national Family Promise organization, founded in 1986, boasts a 75 percent long-term housing solution for those who enter the program, according to the organization’s website. More than 50,000 children and their families are served in one year.

Stage-Harvey said it’s the younger population, school-aged children, that gives the organization purpose. In the past she said she has seen children who are part of lunch programs in the church and it occurred to her that they didn’t have a place to dry their wet clothes or store food and medication.

Those are some of the problems a day center could solve, Stage-Harvey said. Although a center hasn’t been set up yet, there are a few places in the works right now that could fill that need.

Carson said so far four churches are on board, but nothing is certain yet. Fundraising still has to take place and grants have to be applied for. In the meantime getting the word out the community is the goal so that more organizations that often turn homeless people away for lack of space can take note of this option.

“We have the resources, we have the need, there’s no reason we can’t get this done,” Stage-Harvey said. “I don’t want to see someone living in a car. That’s not OK.”

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

Know & Go

Time: 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Place: Chapel by the Lake

Cost: $10 suggested donation; free for children 6 and under

Other: Food provided by Randy’s Rib Shack

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