This organization keeps families together who are experiencing homelessness
by Addie Ladner | photography by Tyler Cunningham
The path to homelessness can be unexpected. One Wake County family, for example, was living paycheck to paycheck, diligently paying rent each month. But when the landlord stopped paying the mortgage, the building was foreclosed on and the family displaced. Thanks to Family Promise, this family didn’t have to choose between staying together or having a safe place to sleep at night: they were connected to an area church with a spare room, where they could stay until they found a new home.
Family Promise of Wake County (an affiliate of the national organization) works with local churches to provide as many as ten families at a time safety and security for up to eight weeks. This year, the organization will celebrate 25 years of keeping families together that are experiencing homelessness through their support services and transitional housing options. While other homeless shelters around Wake County may only accept women and children or have other criteria like age cut-offs, Family Promise of Wake County is able to accommodate the family as one unit. “We treat homelessness as an instance of trauma; we don’t want to cause more traumas by separating the family,” says Danielle Butler, executive director of FPWC. “If I’m experiencing a crisis, the last thing I want is to be separated from my family. Any success will start from your own natural support system.”
Butler says that homelessness in Wake County is largely linked to underemployment and low-paying part-time work in a city with high-priced rent. “Many of the families we work with are given 29 hours so companies don’t have to provide benefits. Parents are piecing together multiple part-time jobs and would have to work over one hundred hours a week to properly provide for their family,” she says. “What person could work that much and still provide childcare and have a healthy lifestyle?” Butler considers this the root of homelessness in our area. One local mother, who asked to remain anonymous, found herself and her three children homeless in the blink of an eye. She says that finding a church shelter through Family Promise was a huge relief. “Just knowing that we’d all be together was what I needed. I didn’t have to worry about meals to cook; we took showers, we played games. We were safe and that’s all that really mattered.”
It’s a community-wide problem that requires a community-wide effort, as WCFP doesn’t have any brick-and-mortar shelters. Fortunately, Wake County is home to generous churches that have volunteered their space as shelters. Two churches operate per night, and the families stay on a week-by-week basis. The program relies on volunteers who turn the spaces into private bedrooms at night, serve meals and provide transportation for families. Utilizing local spaces allows the organization’s overhead costs to stay low so the majority of their resources can go directly into programs that can help individuals exit homelessness for good. These programs include job training, case management services, financial guidance as well as access to the organization’s office and day center, where families can do laundry, shower and spend time together. The staff of six wants the families to view the day center as their own space. “We tell them, this is your space, and we just work here. Take pride and ownership of it,” Butler says. The organization has served 1,500 Wake County families to date. “I’m not happy that we’ve had that many families experiencing homelessness, but I’m glad that we’re here to help them.”