By Betsy Natter
Those familiar with the great restaurants of Lambertville or the shops of Flemington might not think that homelessness was an issue in Hunterdon County, NJ, but for some families the situation is all too real. But, thanks to the services of Family Promise of Hunterdon County, many families who once found themselves without a place to call home have since found hope and stability as well as a new start in affordable housing.
Family Promise is a homeless shelter for children and families in Hunterdon County that is part of the larger Interfaith Hospitality Network. Utilizing the resources of local faith-based congregations, the organization provides housing, meals, transportation, counseling and case management services to families in need. Unlike a typical shelter, families are able to stay together in one room, rather than be separated into different facilities. The program is holistic in that it not only meets the immediate needs of housing, but it provides stability to families who have found themselves thrust into homelessness as they work on goals that allow them to independently maintain regular housing.
The Interfaith Hospitality Network currently has a network of around 45 congregations that volunteer their facility and time for a one week period, several times during the year. Volunteers provide meals and security as well as conversation and support. Clients in the program are able to stay in a private room, typically a classroom space that is set up for sleeping. During the day, program participants may attend school, a job or work with a case manager at the Day Center in Flemington to resolve issues that may have led to their homelessness. While there is no time limit for how long families stay in the program, most are involved for 60-90 days.
Although not a religious organization, the program utilizes local churches as these facilities have un-used space during the week. The collaborative effort allows congregations to help individuals in need right in their neighborhood as well as maximize the use of their facilities. While the majority of volunteers come directly from the host congregations, anyone is welcome to participate. In fact, Colleen Duerr, Development Director at Family Promise says that finding volunteers is among the organization’s biggest need. “We are always looking for more volunteers.” Interested individuals can learn about what is involved and fill out an application by going to the website under “Get Involved”.
Family Promise also offers services to their clients that extend beyond the sheltering program. The Sustainable Housing program offers rent subsidies to clients that have exited the program alongside financial management planning while the Neighbors in Need program offers financial assistance with paying for sudden large expenses such as car repairs, insurance or emergency expenses. These programs are provided based on the funding that is available through monetary donations to the organization.
Each year, an annual fundraising event is held on the grounds of Hunterdon Central High School to raise not only money but awareness to the reality of homelessness. Box City is BYOB – Bring Your Own Box. Participants bring a box and spend the night in a make shift city. Each person is required to raise a $30 minimum in financial support in order to set up their space, although many raise far more. Last year’s event raised over $23,000. Duerr says, “It’s a really fun event. We have people from high school kids to the president of a bank spending the night in a box.” She emphasizes too that the event is a symbolic means of raising awareness about homelessness and what it means to live without the comforts of a home.
If you are interested in learning more about Family Promise of Hunterdon County visit their website at http://familypromisehc.org.