The issue of homelessness across the country, and particularly in Southern California, is both complex and perplexing.
Even in the Santa Clarita Valley, officials and nonprofits alike struggle to find a way to provide shelter and services to our diverse homeless population. The most heart-wrenching problem is how to serve the over 700 homeless school-aged children in our community.
Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley is a local affiliate of a national organization (Family Promise) formed over 30 years ago to specifically address the issues and needs of homeless children and their families. Currently there are over 200 affiliates across the country in 43 states.
The concept for the program is unique: Bring the community together to utilize existing space in churches and other houses of worship to provide emergency overnight shelter, engage volunteer support and provide professional case management to assess the needs of each individual family and assist them on their journey to self-sustainability.
Family Promise of SCV, in operation locally since 2009, is not a traditional shelter program and is only available to homeless adults with one or more minor children. We thoroughly screen potential clients and require both background checks and drug testing. During the intake process we outline our program requirements regarding job search, financial planning and savings, curfew and family responsibilities while they are guests with Family Promise.
We can serve up to four families (not to exceed a total of 14 family members) at a time. During the day, we ensure that school-aged children are enrolled in and attending school and adults are either working or actively seeking employment. We have a resource center located in a portable building at Heart of the Canyons Church in Newhall where our executive director, case managers and volunteers work directly with our families.
During their time with Family Promise (generally 30 to 90 days), our families are required to save 80 percent of their income and are provided with food and any necessary personal supplies they might need.
Every evening, we transport our families to one of our “host congregations.” This is what makes Family Promise special. Local churches and synagogues have stepped up to provide meals and rooms for our homeless children and their families to spend the night, usually a cot or an air mattress in a classroom, office or multipurpose room.
Volunteers from the congregations bring dinner for our families and are able to eat and socialize with them. There’s time for help with homework, playing games, reading books and just talking. The special bond that develops between our guests and their hosts is priceless. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell who gets more out of the experience, the homeless family members or the volunteers.
This is the very heart of what Family Promise has to offer. Our national website says it best: “These volunteers are the core of the program. They share food, spend the night, play with children and lend their passion and expertise to help families get back on their feet. They prove that motivated people can solve family homelessness.”
Community engagement leads to a greater understanding of the roots of family homelessness. Understanding breeds compassion. Compassion leads to change.
In Santa Clarita, we have had the good fortune of working with many different faith groups over the last few years. And though our partners are the faith community, we are not a religious organization. On the contrary, we are a group of people representing many different backgrounds and theologies who have come together with one sole purpose: Bringing hope and support to families in need because no child should be homeless.
Some of our congregations serve as “hosts” and have our families as overnight guests on their campuses. Others are “support” congregations and provide meals and other volunteer efforts. In 2017 alone, our 650-plus volunteers served 10,600 meals and provided 4,380 beds.
As one might imagine, being a “host congregation” for up to four families for a week at a time can be challenging for a church or synagogue.
But for those who have stepped up to serve the homeless population through Family Promise, it has been an unforgettable, local mission experience for their congregants. Many churches send volunteers on incredible mission trips to other countries and provide lifesaving support for the neediest people in the places they visit. And that’s the same experience that Family Promise is offering right here in Santa Clarita for those with giving hearts and hands.
Family Promise of SCV has 10 host congregations and four support congregations and we are actively looking for more of both! We have a program coordinator who can help set up our program at new congregations as well as train new volunteers.
We also offer detailed information and guidelines about becoming a host and working with Family Promise. Becoming a part of this community-based, life-changing program could be the most exciting local mission project any church or synagogue will ever undertake.
Quite simply, Family Promise changes lives — the lives of our homeless children and their families, as well as the lives of the hundreds of volunteers who make this program work.
Our family continues to grow as the need for family homeless services grows and we welcome new congregations and volunteers with open arms.
Laurie Ender is the president of the board of directors for Family Promise, an SCV-based 501(c)3 organization that aims to help families in need. For more information, you can contact her at [email protected] or visit familypromisescv.org.