A boy plays on the bed at one of Family Promise’s host congregations. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

How you can help homeless families stay together under one roof

Sometime around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, four families will leave their bedrooms to allow church volunteers to break down their beds then load them and their personal belongings onto a U-Haul truck to be driven to another host congregation across town.

There, another group of volunteers will unload and reassemble the families’ bedrooms in four pre-selected Sunday school classrooms, where for the next seven days, the families will make their home.

Every Sunday for about three months, the average time it takes to move them into permanent housing, this will be their life.

The thought of moving every seven days for any amount of time might seem burdensome, especially for someone with children, but for a family experiencing homelessness in the north Fulton and DeKalb area, it comes as a welcome relief from their car or a hotel.

In the eight years since Family Promise of North Fulton/DeKalb has been working to fight family homelessness in these counties, all indications are it’s working.

To date, 25 metro Atlanta congregations have signed on to help more than 80 families find permanent housing. Those families include 178 children and 85 adults, mostly single moms.

The goal is to keep it going. You can help with that.

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According to Andrea Brantley, executive director of Family Promise, next week the nonprofit will host Meals With Meaning, its signature fundraiser at the Roswell Historic Cottage.

Proceeds from the event will be used to fund Family Promise’s 2020 program initiatives.

Andrea Brantley is executive director of Family Promise of North Fulton/DeKalb, based in Dunwoody. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Contributed

When the effort began two years ago, supporters held small dinner parties in their homes to educate friends and families about the work Family Promise was doing to help alleviate homelessness.

“We did that for a year, hoping they’d donate to the cause and then tell others,” Brantley said. “Last year, we decided to have just one big dinner, served family-style.”

There aren’t many fundraisers that don’t happen around a meal, but Family Promise may be the only nonprofit that had its beginning around a meal and more specifically a sandwich.

As the story goes, Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting back in 1986 when she stopped to buy a homeless woman a sandwich.

The woman accepted the offering but asked Olson to stay and talk awhile. What the woman shared with Olson made her realize the diminished self-worth the homeless often feel.

Olson and her sons began delivering lunches to the homeless on the streets of New York, and in 1986, when she learned entire families were living on the streets in her own community, she knew she had to do something.

Olson, Brantley said, then asked congregations to share their unused space to provide temporary housing for homeless families.

The effort would eventually become Family Promise, a national network of some 250 affiliates providing shelter, child care and job assistance to families in need of those things.

The name refers not only to the promise the organization makes to help these families but the promise that is inherent in every family.

“Together we’re helping large numbers of homeless families stay together,” Brantley said. “In traditional shelters, families are often separated. If you’re a single mom or dad, for instance, and your children are of the opposite sex, you’re separated from your children.”

In addition to helping families find permanent housing, Family Promise also helps parents find jobs and teaches them the budgeting skills they need to maintain their financial stability after they have left the organization’s walls.

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Because volunteers meet the families over dinner each night and hear their stories, that connection inspires them to help where they can. Sometimes, they have employment leads. Sometimes, they provide tutoring to their children. And sometimes, they are just a kind face after a hard day in the middle of a tremendously difficult time.

That’s why it is such a critical aspect of the program that families, unless their jobs demand otherwise, be present at dinnertime.

“It’s really crucial because that’s really where they connect and make relationships,” Brantley said. “Many have made lifelong friends that way.”

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A lot of us just assume that people are homeless because of the bad choices they’ve made or because they are too lazy or irresponsible to hold down a job.

Brantley told me the opposite is true.

“It’s important to realize that these people are living paycheck to paycheck; anything can render them homeless,” she said.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the cost of housing in metro Atlanta lately and it’s no joke. If you live in north Fulton, it’s worse than most places. Studies, Brantley said, show that the average family needs at least $60,000 per year just for necessities like rent, food, gas and child care. An illness or car repair doesn’t figure into that number.

And yet, some families are forced to choose, for instance, between paying the rent and getting a car repair just so they can go to work.

“If you don’t have the support of family and friends to help, you’re forced to live in a weekly hotel and funds go really quickly and you just run out of money,” Brantley said. “These families are just like you and me.”

Remember that the next time you come across someone sleeping in their car, struggling to find work, or asking for a few spare dollars.

They’re human — just like you and me.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

EVENT PREVIEW

Meals With Meaning

6-9 p.m. March 12. $75. Roswell Historic Cottage, 972 Alpharetta St., Roswell. 404-260-4364, familypromisenfd.org/events.

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