For many people, the image of a homeless person is the scruffy-looking man or woman standing on a street corner holding a sign and asking for a handout, or someone pushing a shopping cart filled with their belongings.
Many homeless people have mental issues or drug problems. Others have just been abandoned by society.
Yet, there is another group of homeless people, one which consists of families.
Family homelessness can occur because of a divorce, where one spouse departs and leaves the other without a source of income. It can happen because of a job loss, when a business closes or someone experiences a work-related injury. It can occur because a landlord decides to sell the building and evict the residents. Roughly 84% of homeless families are headed by single women.
Whatever the reason, parents and their children are then left without the means to put a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
Family Promise of Greater Phoenix’s core mission is to serve these families and get them on a pathway to self-sufficiency.
Currently, there are about 270 families on the waiting list for shelters.
While shelters and other government programs provide temporary relief, there needs to be a system that provides for the long-term financial independence for families — a system that’s focused on triage, where families can reenter the job market, understand and control their expenses, keep their children in a stable school environment and become full-fledged members of the community.
Family Promise offers a unique model that accomplishes that in several stages.
Intake and screening
Families that cannot get into standard shelters are referred to Family Promise, which then screens the family to insure the following requirements are met:
Children are involved.
At least one of the adults must be willing to work.
All members of the family must be drug and alcohol free.
Family members must not have any felony convictions within the past 10 years.
Individuals in the family must not be running from domestic violence situations.
The first priority is to provide a place to sleep, shower, have good meals and get the children to school. The Family Promise process involves the following:
Job coaching where the adult, or adults, in the family are mentored in resume preparation, interviewing and basic entry level employment requirements, is provided.
Training in monetary issues, including budgeting and cash management is provided.
Support for the family by members of the community provides them with a sense that people care about their wellbeing and support their efforts to get back on their feet. This is done in a unique way.
There are over 50 Christian and Jewish congregations throughout Greater Phoenix that offer their facilities to families for a week at a time, often several times per year. Volunteers provide food and basic necessities and host the families in their facilities overnight.
The family is picked up in a van in the morning and taken to the Family Promise facility where the children get ready for school. After school the children are taken to the Boys & Girls Club, returning to Family Promise in the evening to shuttle parents and children back to the congregation for dinner and shelter.
The family’s needs are assessed over a three-day period and the children are back in school within 10 days.
This system keeps the cost of services lower than other alternatives. The cost of sheltering a family under this model is about $5,000, with no government funding required, instead of the $16,000 in a government-funded shelter.
Employment training is provided with the intent of having the parents find a job. Some 60-65% of homeless families are single parents with more than one child. There are several companies that work with the organization to provide training and job opportunities and most are employed within one month.
Budgeting and cash flow
Families are trained in budgeting and cash flow to support their financial independence. Budgets are developed, savings are encouraged and a picture of the family’s ongoing income and expenses is calculated. If the family requires additional funds over and above what they earn on the job, some limited financial support can be provided.
A family can remain with Family Promise for up to 60 days. By that time 70% of families are able to move into sustainable housing. As their income grows, they can put the cycle of homelessness behind them permanently.
In 2021, Family Promise has helped 149 families, comprised of 195 adults, 315 children and 30 pets. This alternative solution is an effective way to solving one of our community’s most urgent needs. JN
Michael Seiden is a retired executive, past board member of Jewish Free Loan and past board chair of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, where he continues to serve on the finance and philanthropy committees.
A version of this article was first published in the Scottsdale Independent.