“Families with children make up 40 percent of the homeless in our country.”
Kiwanians were challenged Thursday afternoon to set aside preconceived notions of homelessness.
“It is no longer those individuals under the bridge. It is no longer drug addicts on the side of the road,” Stewart said. “These are complete family units — whatever that make-up is — with children.”
Stewart said, “One out of every 4 people homeless in America is a small child.”
Family Promise is a nationwide, ministry-based nonprofit organization. Several years ago, Family Promise of Bradley County was established. A network of 11 churches in Bradley County work to provide shelter, food, material goods and education for families involved in the program.
Stewart said 50 individuals have been aided since September 2011.
“Of those 50 people, 30 of those are children. These were homeless children living on the street, cars and hotels,” Stewart said. “Of those 30 children, 19 of those were 5 years of age and younger.”
Family Promise saw the shift in the homeless statistics and decided to take action. Children are aided through the program helping parents stand on their own two feet, according to Stewart.
Adults are expected to find employment, take mandatory courses in financial management and parenting and save 90 percent of each paycheck for a downpayment on an apartment, as well as first month’s rent.
Hundreds of volunteers keep the program afloat. Each one of the 11 host churches provides dinner and shelter for each family’s 13 week program. A day center provides shelter and food for families from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Stewart said moving from church to church still provides more stability for children than living in a hotel, car or on the streets.
“You would be amazed how much more the adults struggle than the kids. The kids adapt. They see it as a kind of fun time because they are hanging out at the gym having fun and people help them with their homework,” Stewart said.
Stewart said children’s academics often show improvement once they are placed in the program.
“[Current children in FP] are doing better. I am getting reports from their teachers saying their grades are improving,” Stewart said. “They are no longer falling asleep in class. They were not getting proper rest before.”
He said knowing there are children on the streets makes it difficult for him to fall asleep at night.
“It makes me lay awake at night to know there are kids sleeping in a car, kids living in a hotel — kids are not getting the sleep they need or the food they need,” Stewart said.
He also pointed out living in a hotel may seem stable, but most of each month’s paycheck goes straight into providing shelter. Other needs are not met as parents struggle to keep a roof over their family’s heads.
Family Promise can currently have up to three families at a time in the program, with a total of about 15 overall. The limited capacity is due to the day center’s smaller space and the 15-passenger van used to transport families around town.