Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Guest Editorial, Sunday, September 7, 2008.
By Gloria Edwards, Executive Director of Family Promise of Gallatin Valley - Offering Shelter and Opportunities to Homeless Families
It can happen to anyone - and it does. At work in Bozeman as usual one Tuesday morning, Mary received a phone call that her oldest child was sick and she needed to pick him up from school. Jesse had strep throat again and she had no other option but to leave work and take care of him. There were no benefits at her job and she didn't qualify for Medicaid because she made too much money. Mary stopped and picked up little Madison from day care. What would she do? Jesse got sick a lot. She had no family - her mom died a few years ago and she never knew her dad. The children's father owed tons in child support and no one knew where he was. Mary worked 40 hours a week, but it wasn't enough. Seems she just fell through the cracks: working, and making too much for public assistance, but not making enough to pay all the bills. Later that day she received the dreaded phone call from work: sorry, we have to let you go, you've missed too much time again this month. And less than two weeks after that, unable to stretch her savings any further and with no luck finding a new job, Mary was forced out of her apartment. She soon found herself wondering if her children Jesse, 7, and Madison, 2, would be safe spending the night in their car. It was cold out - would Jesse get sick again? After two nights in the car and a referral from the food bank, the family finally found the help they needed at Family Promise of Gallatin Valley.
Now two and a half years old, Family Promise of Gallatin Valley operates a network of 21 area churches that provide emergency shelter and meals to families with children. Volunteers from Bozeman, Belgrade and Three Forks offer time and support, while the Family Promise staff links families to the local services and programs that will help them find the housing, jobs, and child care to allow them to rebuild their lives. For Mary, that help came in the form of a volunteer from Hope Lutheran Church who knew of a job opening with benefits, Child Care Connections who helped Mary apply for a child care scholarship for Madison, the Community Clinic who let Mary make payments, the Family Promise case manager who taught her how to budget and re-create a savings plan, Big Brothers Big Sisters who found a male mentor for Jesse, and all the love and support of volunteers who helped Jesse with his homework and read stories to Madison. All 30 other homeless families (64 children and 51 adults) have found that same assistance and most have gone forward to become self-sufficient contributing members of our community.
It is a model that has been replicated across the country, through the 127 Affiliates of Family Promise, a 20-year-old national organization dedicated to helping homeless and low-income families achieve lasting independence. Like other Affiliates, Family Promise of Gallatin Valley uses existing community resources to connect families, like Mary's, with the assistance they need. And this "work smart" approach empowers families at a fraction of the cost of traditional emergency housing programs. Family Promise holds people accountable: all adults are required to work, put their money into savings, meet their children's needs and struggle daily to make a better life for their family. The approach is "a hand-up, not a hand-out". Most importantly, it works. 95% of those who complete the 60 - 90 day program have found permanent housing and employment.
Families with children are the largest and fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, and stories like Mary's, unfortunately, are becoming more common, even right here in Bozeman. Pushed to the limit by rising gas and food prices, one unplanned medical emergency, or a sudden job loss, more and more families are struggling to make ends meet and finding themselves thrown into a crisis that few of us can even imagine. It is a harsh reality that many of our own neighbors are facing.
But another reality is that a community coming together really can make a difference, and Family Promise gives us the opportunity to do that. It's as simple as cooking a meal, making a bed, or playing with a child for a few hours one evening - just reaching out to our neighbors. And for a family in need, those simple acts can mean the world.
Join us at the Second Annual Cardboard Box City on October 3rd or call to find out about our next free volunteer training session to be held September 22nd from 6 - 9 p.m.
For more information about how you can make a difference, please contact Family Promise of Gallatin Valley at 582-7388 or at www.familypromisegv.org
Gloria Edwards, Executive Director
Family Promise of Gallatin Valley
209 S. Tracy
Bozeman, MT 59715