Salem Family Promise looks to help locals in need

This article was in Today’s Sunbeam.

Family Promise looks to help locals in need

By CHRISTOPHER WEIR, Staff Writer, Wednesday, May 09, 2007

For area families in need of shelter and assistance, the Family Promise of Salem County is working to help.

Family promise is a national, interdenominational organization which is committed to helping low income families achieve lasting independence.

The Salem County chapter was formed in 2005 and has been in the development stages over the past year. Its members say they are passionate about helping the homeless in the county and say the program will yield results.

Salem County chapter President Pastor Ralph Siegel, who is pastor of the Victory of Assembly of God, said he was surprised how simple the program is and said it has the potential to help a lot of families in the area.

“We feel passionate because we believe we’ve found a solution,” Siegel said.

The program works by providing temporary shelter for families while at the same time looking for permanent housing and helping the head of the families to obtain employment so that they can afford the costs of living.

On average, it takes 60 days for families enrolled in the program to find permanent housing and for the heads of household to obtain employment. Nationwide, the program has a success rate of over 80 percent, Siegel said.

The program is for single families and the only requirement is that they have children.

“We’re not defining what a family is,” Siegel said.

The program can handle 14 people at a time. Those people will be housed at a day care center during the day and given shelter in an area church at night. Transportation and meals for the group will also be provided.

Siegel said the goal is to have 12 churches that will participate to serve as temporary shelters at night. Each church will house the 14 individuals as well as a program volunteer at night for one week.

The families will then be housed at another church the next week, which means each church would only have to house each family for one week every three months.

During the day, the families will be housed at a day care center where they will be able to meet with a social worker who will work specifically for Family Promise.

The social worker will be able to give considerable attention to each family enrolled in the program and help them through their difficult times, Siegel said.

The program is run by volunteers and the only costs involved would be to pay the salary of the social worker and for the van transportation.

The goal is for each family to find a permanent solution to their money and housing problems, according to Family Promise Secretary Julie Acton.

“It’s not a bandage,” Acton said. “We’re not giving them a couple hundred dollars or putting them in a hotel for a few days. Our goal is to fix the problem permanently.”

All applicants who wish to enroll in the program will have to pass a screening process. The program will not accept those with criminal histories or those with substance abuse issues.

It is designed for those who are homeless because they have lost a job, become ill or faced other recent adversity, Acton said.

“It’s geared to those who want to find a way out of homelessness,” Siegel said. “We’re not giving them a handout, we’re giving them a hand up.”

Once in the program, the families also have to abide by strict rules and procedures including nightly curfews.

Acton, who also serves on the freeholder board, said freeholders have decided to make caring for the homeless a priority and that they have recently created a Homeless Task Force to help deal with the problem.

There is a severe homeless problem in the county but many of the homeless go unnoticed, according to Family Promise Vice President Rev. Petrina Pyatt of Our Merciful Savior Episcopal Church.

A lot of homeless don’t report being homeless because they’re scared they’ll be arrested or have their children taken away from them. Many live in cars or live with friends or relatives in over-crowded and dilapidated homes.

“Until you have something to meet their needs,” Siegel said, “they don’t want anyone to know they’re homeless.”

The group hopes to be up and running by December 2007, but to do so they will need the help of the community. They are trying to recruit more churches and volunteers as well as raise money for the organization.

“Most people are not happy being homeless,” Siegel said. “With this program, they will be helped in an environment that is respectful and loving.”

For those who would like to volunteer or donate to the program or for more information, call 769-4512 or send mail to PO Box 191, Penns Grove, NJ, 08696.

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