Family Promise of Bradley County, an organization which helps homeless families with children, has been shifting the way it helps local families.
“We’re really looking at intentional expansion this year,” said Eva VanHook, executive director of Family Promise of Bradley County. “We are not only looking at helping families who are homeless; we are also wanting to help prevent homelessness.”
The organization’s main goal is to provide housing and help to families as they work to overcome homelessness. It does this through a program in which families receive nightly housing and meals, as well as help with everything from transportation to job hunting.
This is made possible by local churches which transform Sunday school rooms into classrooms to give each family a safe place to sleep. Teams of volunteers also ensure families receive food and companionship.
Families have access to a day center, where they can do laundry, hunt for jobs, receive other needed services and more with help from staff and volunteers.
Last year, the local organization helped five families. VanHook added the organization has a waiting list for more.
“We want to expand our capacity this year. We also want to expand our Project Home program,” VanHook said.
Project Home is a program the local Family Promise quietly started two years ago. Families at risk of homelessness can request help paying for their housing.
Families go through an interview process and commit to attending classes on financial literacy and tenants’ rights and responsibilities, which are taught by Family Promise staff and partners.
The organization provides each family with about $500 to help with rent or mortgage payments. This is funded with help from the United Way, Athens Federal Bank, a federal grant and private donors.
“This is a way for us to help prevent people from becoming homeless,” VanHook said. “We help them address the need they have now and make strategies for the future.”
Though people might not always notice it, VanHook stressed homelessness is a very real problem in Cleveland and Bradley County.
The vast majority of the families served by Family Promise of Bradley County are single parents, VanHook said. She added this has to do with the challenges single parents face while trying to make ends meet on a single income.
“Many of them are just one lost job or unexpected medical expense away from losing their homes,” VanHook said. “They end up in a very precarious position.”
Most of the families helped are those led by single mothers, though Family Promise is seeing a local increase in the number of single fathers needing help for their families.
Those interested in helping provide stability for these families can donate or volunteer to help with everything from providing nightly meals to helping out at the day center.
Family Promise is also in need of more host churches willing to host families for one week every quarter. There are currently 11 churches involved, but VanHook said having more churches would lighten the load for everyone.
Another way to help is attending Family Promise’s upcoming pancake breakfast Saturday, from 8 to 10 a.m., at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. The cost is $5 at the door, and it includes pancakes, eggs, bacon and coffee.