When people think of homelessness in Warren County, they are likely to picture a middle-aged man holding a sign near Wal-Mart or on a street corner in Phillipsburg, Washington or Hackettstown...
Rarely do people think of a toddler with a sippy cup in one hand and a teddy bear in the other...
Although largely invisible to the public, families with children under 10 years old are actually the fastest growing group of homeless in America.
Watch the video (8 min.)
According to “America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness,” New Jersey ranks 16th in addressing child homelessness. While this may not seem bad (there are 34 states worse off), one would expect things to be better in a state with such a high median income ($70,000 in Warren County).
Also in New Jersey, it is apparent that the high cost of housing in the state and stagnant wages for the working poor is putting children at great risk of becoming homeless.
Each year, one in 50 American children experience homelessness. The majority of these children are young; for example, in 2009, 11 of the 13 children that were in our Network were age 5 or younger. That is quite significant. In 2009, we provided shelter, meals, professional case management and support which included 2,604 bed nights and 7,812 meals.
Lack of jobs and lack of affordable housing are the primary causes of homelessness. Add to that, changing family demographics, lack of education, and fractured social supports and even a seemingly minor event can catapult a family onto the streets. Family homelessness is not a lifestyle choice: It is a worst-case scenario.
What happens to children when they become homeless? According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, homeless children:
What does Family Promise do to help? We start with providing the essentials: food, clothing and shelter. We accept up to four families (14 people) and unlike some other IHNs, we do not limit the amount of time in the Network. Transportation is provided each day to and from the congregation to the Family Resource Center in Oxford, NJ. It is here that adults receive professional case management to help them overcome obstacles. Parents are helped to find jobs, child-care assistance, counseling and whatever services are needed.
Family Promise has also started operating the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP). The HPRP program helps PREVENT families from becoming homeless.
Family Promise offers a “hand up, not a hand-out.” It is a tough program and accountability is required. This approach has proven effective and the program has been replicated 152 times. There are now 152 affiliates nationwide. And just like the other 151 Networks, the program would not operate without your help.
So, what about the children? How does Family Promise make a difference? We hold them and play with them and make them feel at home. If they are school aged, we make sure they can stay in their same school. We refer sick children to appropriate health care providers, and help with their prescriptions if necessary so they can get better. Staff and volunteers both model good parenting practices, and give stressed-out parents new ideas. Most importantly, we put our faith into action and create lasting relationships. Children and parents are surrounded by people offering hospitality. Families feel hopeful, and work hard to regain their independence.
It has been said that “Home is Where Your Story Begins.” What if you have no home? How can children begin their story if they have no place to call their own? By working together we can end homelessness one family at a time.
You can help Family Promise in this mission by:
Next time you think about homelessness, picture the toddler holding the sippy cup and the teddy bear……. right here in Warren County, New Jersey.
Offering Compassion, Care, and Hope for Our Homeless Families, Family Promise of Warren County Inc. [FPWC] helps homeless families and individuals by keeping the families intact and in their communities and schools by providing housing, meals, security deposits, temporary rental assistance, case management services, and other support services while preserving the family's safety, dignity, and well being. FPWC is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization registered in the State of New Jersey.