The month of November dawned with frost on the ground this morning and, all across our nation, there are 1.6 million children who are cold. The reason I bring this up is because November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and it is a subject none of us likes to talk about. It is also a stark reality in Chattanooga, Tenn.
So let’s start by telling you about two single-parent families in Chattanooga where Christmas just came early. Last Friday each family took up residence in the newly-renovated College Hill Courts in a new “rapid relocation program” that provides a glorious beginning and a sustainable future. A new coalition between Family Promise, Room In The Inn, the Chattanooga Housing Authority, and Joe Johnson Mental Health just made a pair of far-away dreams turn into two that quickly came true.
To watch would have made you weep. Mary Lynn Morse and a dedicated team of at least 20 others at CBL Properties took on the launch as a community service project and suddenly there were new beds with clean mattresses, new sheets, pillows and towels, fresh furniture, food in the pantries, toys and books and children’s rooms freshly decorated. In short, a long cry from living in a homeless shelter.
The coalition hopes to have another family take residence in early December, followed in line by other Chattanooga families that just need a nudge to begin a fresh start. This is what Family Promise does, providing counselors and case workers and guidance tools so that a family can be sustainable -- children can be warm, can eat, can go to school, and have a community.
But before you get feeling real warm and fuzzy, you need to know that Family Promise itself is living on the edge. With just two fulltime employees and two part-time workers, the church-based outreach organization has now had 243 requests for help and – in truth – Family Promise is dangling by a thread itself. The demand is greater but the means to provide services are unable to keep up.
Formerly called the Interfaith Homeless Network, Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga started 15 years ago in an office at the Community Kitchen to help recycle entire families back into society without the children being split apart. More than 50 area churches and synagogues help support the busy center on 1184 Baldwin Street where there is an active day-care effort, a busy staff and an exhaustive outreach effort manned by many volunteers.
But the lack of money has nearly stymied the efforts by executive director Mary Ellen Galloway so today I am asking for families all over the Chattanooga area to join in supporting others in our city that – quite bluntly – have nowhere to go this Thanksgiving. No matter how great or small the gift, I am hoping families who have been blessed would reach out to those who still struggle in our community.
“Our success rate is 80 percent. We have a fabulous operating model and now that we are joining hands with the Chattanooga Housing Authority, our friends at Joe Johnson and Room In The Inn, we have the opportunity to quickly place more families than ever before. But right now we need more help than ever before,” she said.
“I know the economy is making it hard on everyone but when I saw what the CBL volunteers did last week, I had to struggle not to start crying out of gratitude. If I had other companies that would make a family’s transition into a community service project, and if I could somehow get in front of people to tell our story, I can make anybody a believer that miracles can happen if we work together.”
Better yet, what if area families, counting their blessings in this month of Thanksgiving, could help Family Promise with a check, or a pledge, that would help assure forward progress? “The people we help are carefully-screened, get jobs, and are enabled to start a budget, a savings plan and the things a family must do to stay together,” she explained. “We help avert crisis, too. Our families succeed.
“We have a dynamic board, headed by Kathy Fulgham, and we are a 501 C3 but our expertise is placing families and keeping them afloat. We need more volunteers, overnight shelters and a greater presence in the community but – by far – our biggest need is a way to boost our financial standing so that we are able to keep up with our constant requests. We need help.”
The “rapid relocation program” coalition is exciting. The Chattanooga Housing Authority will soon have other units available and, with Room In The Inn, the Joe Johnson Center, and Family Promise now involved, families that are homeless have a greater hope than ever before. But we have to keep Family Promise in a position of strength where it can also thrive to serve a growing number of deserving clients.
This November, will your family – either at home or at work -- make a promise? Get in touch with Mary Ellen Galloway at Family Promise, 1184 Baldwin Street (zip 37403) or call 423/756-3891. Your help will make some family’s Thanksgiving a lot bigger than any of us could dream.