Family Promise of Gwinnett County recently announced the creation of a new weapon in its battle against homelessness in Gwinnett County.
By June 1 of this year, Family Promise of Gwinnett hopes to begin accepting families into its program utilizing a fully renovated home called Promise Haven.
Despite the delays and social distancing requirements predicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Family Promise is very optimistic that Promise Haven will be fully functional by June 1 or before. Promise Haven is just what the name implies, said Carol Love, the Executive Director of Family Promise of Gwinnett, according to Executive Director Carol Love.
Promise Haven is a new program with Family Promise as it is structured around a fixed location rather than the rotational structure that had been in existence prior to the pandemic. “A safe home for children and their families is our desire,” Love said. “We want to provide a roof over their heads, a hot, home-cooked meal and a warm comfortable bed to sleep in at night. We want them to wake in the morning knowing that they have a place to be welcomed and wanted.”
The new home, located in Lawrenceville is being rented from a local church for $1.00 a year. Love indicated that Family Promise was extremely appreciative of the availability and the support given by the church in this endeavor. When completely renovated, the facility will house up to 4 families with children for a maximum of 15 people. That number will be adjusted to meet current social distancing guidelines at the time.
“Prior to requesting rezoning for this property, Family Promise implemented a minor, first-floor renovation to accommodate a large family during the initial stages of the pandemic. After the family transitioned into more permanent housing Family Promise took this opportune time to pursue proper permitting and begin to initiate planning for a complete renovation of the property”, Love stated.
What is Promise Haven?
According to Love, “Promise Haven provides an opportunity for a volunteer network’s creativity to really shine, as they work with the Promise Haven staff and family members in creating a welcoming and friendly, family-oriented environment.”
For participants, it’s all about developing and learning better lifestyle habits. “It is a home designed to help Family Promise families find their way,” Love said, as the focal point of the Family Promise program was created to take care of children.”
“Children are our focus with” she emphasized. “It’s all centered around them, the innocent victims of the crisis of homelessness.”
“Promise Haven is about lifestyle change,” Love indicated. “We work with the families to assist them to develop sustainable lifestyle habits.”
Promise Haven is not a shelter. Families can stay in-house each night from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 am the next morning. During a family’s stay, each family member will continue their daily schedule. Adults keep going to work while the children stay in their schools. Family members who are not at school or work can utilize the Family Promise Day Center in Lawrenceville for such things as showers, computer access, playground and even a prayer garden for the participant’s use. A family’s initial stay is for 30 days. If family members complete the required first goals and have adhered to the guest guidelines during that initial 30-day period, a family’s stay in the program may be extended an additional 30 days. The maximum stay for the program has been established at 90 days.
Partnering with Family Advocates
A family will be assigned a Family Advocate who will meet regularly to create an action plan to allow the family to return to self-sufficiency. Advocates will aid in their search for permanent housing, employment, job training and day care. Advocates will also aid in budget development, saving plans and credit management. Families must be residents of Gwinnett County. Families may include couples with children, single parents with children and even Grandparents who are the caregivers for their Grandchildren. Family Promise does not serve individuals or families without children. To apply, call 678-376-8950 and ask to speak with a family advocate for an initial phone screening. Depending upon availability, the next step is a face-to-face interview. The overall process can take 5-10 business days.
Working Around a Pandemic
Love sees her work as reflecting her passion - helping others who are not as fortunate. Following a five-year stint at Wilbanks Partners, Love returned to Family Promise as its Executive Director two years in August. She resumed her passion for helping others, which in this case is Gwinnett County’s homeless population. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, helping the homeless became even more difficult as the organization implemented the suggested guidelines and procedures.
“We were not able to house as many families as we would have liked as we were displaced when our participating churches were forced to close their doors”, she said. “But no one that was in the program were turned away.”
Family Promise found alternative housing solutions for its’ program members. “We serviced 66 individuals throughout the pandemic, though not all of them were homeless,” she said. There are more than 35 local churches and synagogues in Gwinnett County who partner with Family Promise. Love said, “Our church partners are amazing!”
According to Love, Family Promise of Gwinnett has two means of service, being able to react to an immediate crisis situation where the caller needs immediate funding or a place to stay with an eviction that is eminent. “One of the ways we can help with anyone facing eviction is to advise them of connections to legal aid.”
“That may be the best method to meet an immediate situation. The Family Promise method involves prevention, shelter and stabilization,” Love said. “We work to prevent evictions where possible, but we provide shelter for the family while they are enrolled in our program, which in turn helps bring stabilization while learning new lifestyle habits.”
Love also said that the eviction moratorium certainly helps families keep off the streets, but it doesn’t stop the problem of coming up with their rent. “A backlog of rental payments pile up and will become due once the moratorium is lifted, which ultimately makes the problem worse. The major problems with an eviction are that the resident is unable to come up with the funds to pay rent.”
Family Advocate Case Manager, Lyndey Shelby has seen the game from both sides of the fence. She is a Licensed Social Worker, has been a church volunteer for 10 years and a Volunteer Co-Ordinator for the past 4 years prior to joining Family Promise in November 2019. For Shelby, her position and her expertise gleaned from years of volunteering help her to have a clear idea of the process from multiple angles.
“That gave me a great perspective because I could see things at Family Promise whether it would be practical with the churches,” she said. “It was very helpful from a Volunteer Coordinators’ point of view to understand how the process was happening so I could advise our church which programs were the strongest and how best these programs could be utilized within their church resources. As a Coordinator and an employee, I get to view this from both sides.”
Additionally, Shelby indicated that homelessness falls into two categories, chronic and situational.
“Our families are situationally homeless, which is a product of the pandemic,” she said. “The battle to end homelessness is fought one family at a time. It’s really all you can do.”
Shelby said her job is an opportunity to help one child, or one family at a time. “The homeless situation in Gwinnett County is very severe,” she said. “It’s a lot worse than anybody realized.”
On average, we find 3,500 children are homeless each night in our county, according to census statistics.
“An extended stay hotel certainly isn’t home,” Shelby said. “There are kids sleeping in cars or crammed into beds in shelters or with relatives.” Family Promise helps teach families a new lifestyle and it starts with money management.
“If you are eating fast food or at a restaurant every night because it is cheap and fast or because you believe it is a special occasion, but you end up without money to pay for your rent, that is not a good lifestyle choice,” Shelby said. “We align a family with a support church where a family can find fellowship. We teach you how to manage your finances and to make sound choices; and lastly, we help you to develop a new sustainable lifestyle.”
Interested individuals can call 678-376-8950 for further information about how to become a participant or volunteer in the Family Promise program.
Editor’s Note: The purpose of commissioning and sharing this article is to shine some light on a business that has been resilient over time and is one organization in the Gwinnett area that is serving those who are homeless in Gwinnett County. ~ Auveed Bagheri Cawthon, Editor & Co-Publisher