Being homeless is closer than you think

There is something about this time of year that makes me more aware of the need to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate. I really can’t add another pair of shoes to my daughter’s collection without thinking about families in my own community struggling to put food on the table. Some are not just struggling, many are actually homeless.

One of the first things you learn when you meet a homeless family is your preconceived notions are largely wrong. Most of the time no one in these families is a criminal, an alcoholic or a drug addict. It can be the combination of a lost job and runaway medical bills, plus a home that can’t be sold, to force a family into a financial hole too large to climb out.

This past school year, the Gwinnett County School System accommodated 1,655 homeless students. In 2010 foreclosures totaled a staggering 26,502 in Gwinnett County with eviction notices served on 21,302 households.

Surprisingly, there are no shelters for the homeless anywhere in Gwinnett County.

The homeless can find a unique helping hand in Family Promise of Gwinnett County. Providing much more than a temporary a roof over their head, Family Promise is a nonprofit faith-based organization consisting of 29 churches designed to provide shelter, meals and support services to families in Gwinnett County who for whatever the reason have found themselves homeless. Family Promise focuses on just four families at a time, with the goal for each family to end with permanent housing and full-time employment.

Four families at a time doesn’t sound like much until you realize that most families are turned around on average within three weeks of entering the program. Plus Family Promise is growing with the increasing need. More congregations and more volunteers are joining the program and they hope to very soon increase their assistance to eight families at a time. Family Promise of Gwinnett, along with the Salvation Army’s Home Sweet Home Gwinnett are faith-based programs providing homeless families invaluable assistance to return to independent living.

It’s some of the things we take for granted every day that can make the difference. Having access to phone and internet services make job hunting more effective. Trustworthy day care services or even the opportunity to have your car repaired may mean the difference between getting to a job interview or not. Combined with information on how to restructure debt and budget management training, families are able to return to self-sufficient living quickly.

These families can tell you how you might find yourself homeless, but they’d rather tell you about the compassionate and respectful people who helped them keep their families together and start to put their lives back on track. For information about programs helping the homeless contact your local Salvation Army or for information about Family Promise of Gwinnett County, visit the website at www.familypromisegwinnett.org.

Karen Huppertz recently joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's line up of County by county columnists. She has lived in Gwinnett County for 13 years. Reach her at karenhuppertz@gmail.com.