Churches band together to aid homeless families
Several local churches have decided to tackle the problem of homeless children and their families in Lehigh County.
Family Promise is a nondenominational organization with a mission of building communities and strengthening lives.
The group is a nonprofit 501(c)3 with more than 202 affiliates in 42 states.
The idea of launching Family Promise of Lehigh County was spearheaded a year-and-a-half ago by doctoral candidate and licensed social worker Diane Joy Irish.
Since then, Irish has worked side-by-side with other community members to gain the support necessary to form a network of local congregations.
According to a brochure published by Family Promise, “Congregations across the country are wrestling with the question of how to be ‘our brothers and sisters keeper’ as homelessness grows to touch virtually every city and town in our nation.”
Information from the group’s January core meeting reveal the largely unseen, unknown or ignored problems with family homelessness.
The Sixth Street Shelter, Allentown, has 90 beds and approximately 160 families are on the waiting list; 41 percent of homeless families consist of one adult and one child; 60 percent of homeless people are children; 40 percent to 50 percent of homeless children are under the age of 5; and there are 875 identified homeless students in Lehigh County schools.
The statistics are staggering.
“It could be your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend,” Tony Crimaldi, board chair said. “Family Promise focuses on situational homelessness affecting families with children.”
According to the group, family homelessness comes in all forms; single parents with children, guardians with children, and even grandparents caring for children, who suddenly find themselves homeless due to unforeseen events such as the loss of a job, illness and catastrophes such as fire.
In addition to Crimaldi and Irish, who serves as treasurer, the FPLC board includes Brian Engler Sr., vice chair; Karen Crbbin Fitzpatrick, secretary; Pastor Wally Frisch, recruitment chair; and Scott Kriner, finance chair.
There are currently six host site congregations that have signed a covenant of support for FPLC including Greenawalds United Church of Christ and Jordan UCC, both in South Whitehall; St. Joseph the Worker Roman Catholic Church, Orefleld; St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Allentown; Life Church Macungie, and Macungie Christian Community Church, both in Macungie.
The Family Promise Network Program provides lodging, meals and support services to families without a home through several basic components.
First, the hosting of families will rotate weekly among the host congregations in the network.
In turn, each host congregation will provide lodging, three meals a day and caring hospitality three to four times a year.
“The ideal number of hosting congregations to run a completely seamless program is 13,” Pastor Frisch said at a retreat held by board members Feb. 11 at Jordan UCC.
During the day, children will be provided transportation to school, while parents or guardians work.
Guests will use a designated day center where they will receive support services with the aid of professional social workers who will help provide them with assistance in finding housing, jobs, day care for little ones, as well as showering and laundry facilities.
At the end of the day, the families will return to that week’s home congregation where they will eat dinner provided by the congregation and spend the evening hours with congregation volunteers.
“Volunteers are absolutely integral to the success of the program,” Crimaldi said.
Families can become involved by offering services such as cooking and serving meals, playing with children and helping with homework, or just interacting with guests while showing respect and compassion, and providing a temporary safe haven during a difficult time of transition for a family.
Local social service agencies will refer qualified families to the network.
“We are looking at families with children affected by situational homelessness due to things like maybe a fire or a lost job,” Crimaldi said. “The program is designed to assist until the family can get back on its feet and transition back into life again.”
According to Irish, the group received its nonprofit status in July 2016, and worked diligently to develop recruitment and finance committees.
The goal is to have established committees for communication, day center search, fund development and transportation in place by the end of March, according to Fitzpatrick.
Monthly core and committee meetings rotate locations between congregations, with core meetings held on the third Tuesday of each month.
With a goal of being up and running by September, there is still much to be done.
Additional host congregations, support and volunteers are needed.
Family Promise of Lehigh County will be manning a table on specific dates at the 2017 Lehigh Valley Auto Show March 23-26 at Stabler Arena as well as the Parkland Community Resource Fair.
There are a variety of ways to learn more or to request information, and to donate to Family Promise of Lehigh County.
To learn more, visit familypromiselehighcounty.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.