Frequently Asked Questions about Family Promise of Hunterdon County (FPH)
Why did you change the name from Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) to Family Promise of Hunterdon County?
How did Family Promise of Hunterdon (FPH) get started?
FPH is part of a national affiliate network called Family Promise National. Family Promise was started in the late 1980’s by a woman named Karen Olsen. “Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting when she passed a homeless woman on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich. The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich but asked for something more — a chance to be heard. Karen stayed with Millie and listened. What she heard made her understand that homelessness brought profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection from society. When Karen learned that homelessness was affecting families right in her own community in New Jersey, she knew she had to do something. But this was much more than giving sandwiches. She brought together people in need and people who wanted to help. Existing community resources could provide shelter, meals, and housing. Volunteers could use their skills, knowledge, and compassion to help their homeless neighbors find employment, reconnect with society, and restore their dignity. She approached the religious community. Congregations offered hospitality space within their buildings. The YMCA provided showers and a family day center. A car dealer discounted a van. The first interfaith hospitality network opened on October 27, 1986. As word spread, more New Jersey congregations formed a second network. Other congregations were inspired to develop similar programs. In 1988, we formed the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to bring the program nationwide. In addition to shelter, meals, housing, and job-seeking support, our Affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homelessness prevention. Nationally, we added programs like Just Neighbors and Family Mentoring. In 1992, Family Promise was awarded one of 21 Points of Light, out of a field of more than 4,500 nominees, by President and Barbara Bush.” http://www.familypromise.org
The Hunterdon County affiliate was one of the first affiliates to join the network – in May of 1990. Several of our host congregations have been part of the network since the very beginning.
Why did you change the name from Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) to Family Promise of Hunterdon County?
As the national network grew, it became obvious that all affiliates were doing more than just providing shelter to homeless families through the IHN network. FPH, for example, has added homeless prevention, mental health, neighbors in need, sustainable housing/rapid re-housing, and other case management-related programs. We also help our families long after they leave the IHN shelter program. For that reason, the national office adopted a new name – Family Promise. “The name refers to the promise, in the sense of commitment, which communities make to families in need. But it also refers to the promise, the potential, inherent in every family.” (www.familypromise.org). Although we still refer to the shelter program as the IHN network, we love the new name because it more accurately reflects our all-encompassing programs and the commitment that we make to our families.
Why do guests stay at houses of worship?
Our host congregations have space that is under-utilized which they make available to our guests to house them. Families stay in one room together (which might not happen in a traditional homeless shelter). Our network of congregations and volunteers saves our agency over $500,000 each year in costs associated with: real estate, food, security, staffing, maintenance and other related expenses. If we operated a fixed-site shelter we would not only incur enormous costs to purchase a facility but hundreds of thousands each year in operations. Not only do our volunteers save our community money, but they provide companionship and respect at a level that even the best staff could not provide.
Why can you only take four families at a time?
When the national network was set up in the late 1980’s, this was the guideline from the national office. We are asking each host site to provide 6 separate sleeping areas – 4 for families and 2 for overnight volunteer hosts. Our capacity is 4 families or up to 14 people at a time in order to make this a manageable program for our host sites and volunteers. Also, this program is not an emergency drop-in shelter, it is designed for long-term stability, so our case manager works very closely with four families at a time to help them reach their goals.
Why can’t families just stay for a few days or a few weeks if they need it?
Our program is designed very differently than a typical emergency drop-in shelter which cares for the chronically homeless. When a family comes into our program they are not just getting shelter, they are making a commitment to “work the program” so that they can exit the shelter into safe and affordable housing that they can keep. This is not a shelter, it is a program that includes intensive case management and goal setting. We adore our families, but we don’t want to see them back in our shelter. For that reason, we work very closely with them for as long as they need to become stable.
Isn’t it stressful for guests to keep moving from one church to another?
Yes, it can be VERY stressful, particularly for those families that do not have transportation and therefore, spend hours on the LINK every day. It is really hard to be a parent in a situation that is somewhat chaotic, with people you didn’t ask to be with, in front of volunteers, and when you don’t know what your future holds. However, it is our volunteers who make our guests feel valued and important. They also give our guests a wonderful opportunity to network and build a support system. The kids actually love the program! They get love and attention and an adventure every day.
Where do the kids go to school?
Thanks to the McKinney-Vento Act of 1987, homeless children have the right to attend school in their district of origin (where they became homeless) or at the local school district which would be Flemington-Raritan, where our office and Day Center is located. If the parents choose to keep them in their district of origin, they are entitled to free transportation to and from the Day Center in Flemington. This decision is made with a lot of thought and discussion with our case manager and it often hinges on where the family may find housing. Often, parents try to minimize disruption for the kids and keep them in their district of origin.
Why don’t you have a single site for your shelter?
The program, by design, relies on houses of worship to provide shelter. If we were to operate a fixed site shelter staffed by volunteers, we would have to change our model. We would also have to make an enormous investment in real estate, improvements, and ongoing maintenance. Any fixed site shelter would have to be located in a place convenient for our families to walk to stores, libraries, parks, etc.. Although this is something we would most definitely consider, we have not had an opportunity to acquire real estate in a convenient location to date.
What can you do for single women and single men?
Our program is designed to help homeless families. If there is space in the shelter, we can take a single woman, but families will always get priority. Because we rely on volunteers to provide shelter, we need to make careful decisions on who to bring into the shelter. We’re sorry to say that there is no homeless shelter for single men or the chronically homeless population in Hunterdon County. We will typically refer someone to Social Services to see if they can access any county programs or to shelters like Safe Harbor in Easton or Market Street Mission in Morristown, the closest shelters to our county.
Where do your referrals come from?
Sometimes families call us directly and often because a former client recommended us. We also receive referrals from Hunterdon County Social Services and other social services agencies in the county.
How do you know who is a good candidate for your program?
Because this is designed as a long-term program, we are asking families to make a commitment to goal setting and intensive case management. Our case manager will do an initial phone screening where she explains how the program works and what is expected of the families. When she does an intake interview it can take 2-3 hours where she gets a deep understanding of things like: work history, education, family and friend support systems, health history, etc.. This helps her to best work with the family and help them access all programs and services. If parents aren’t already working, the ultimate goal is to help them find employment that will allow them to comfortably afford to pay living expenses.
How long do families stay in the program?
Typically 2-3 months although there is no limit to how long they can stay. Because we are focused on a long-term plan, we want to make sure we help our clients get to the point where they can maintain housing. We have found that over time our clients become somewhat exhausted and frustrated, so we do try to keep our shelter stays to 60-90 days. However, as long as the family is compliant with the rules and working their case plan, we won’t exit anyone until they are stabilized.
How do you find housing for families?
Our case manager has developed excellent relationships with local landlords, which gives her access to a lot of rental units. Unfortunately, housing in Hunterdon County is extremely expensive, with fair market rents of $1,458 for a two-bedroom apartment. There is very little “low income” and precious little “very low income” housing. The Section 8 waiting list is quite long, with close to 500 people on it and about 50-75 Section 8 vouchers issued each year. Fortunately, we have access to Rapid Re-Housing programs which helps our clients pay their rent for one year while they earn and save enough to be on their own.
What happens when people are on the waitlist?
We do keep a waitlist for people that call for a space in the shelter when we have no space available. Most often, these families and individuals are staying with family or may end up finding housing in another county while they are on the waitlist. When a family gives their name for our waitlist it is highly unlikely that they are literally on the street. If we suspect that is the case, we will make every effort to link them with other programs to help temporarily house them and keep them safe.
Why do you have a mental health program?
We make every effort to not “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to programs. Rather than create a new program, our case manager will refer a client to another agency for an existing program that meets their needs. However, we realized years ago that mental health services were lacking for our clients with wait times of up to three months to receive services through the county, When a parent resigns themselves to the fact that their family is homeless, we are dealing with depression and anxiety, at the very least. For that reason, we offer an in-house mental health program that gives us access to professional counselors and therapists who discount their services for us. We also have a weekly Music Therapy program and a weekly Parenting in a Crisis program.
How do I become a volunteer at the overnight shelter sites?
Please see the Volunteer section of our website for more information – we’d love to have you! Children are welcome to volunteer as long as they are accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old. We do not schedule the shifts in our office; rather, that is handled by the coordinators at each congregation. We would put you in touch with the right people so that you can jump right in!
Do you have any other volunteer opportunities?
Our most immediate need is to help our congregations fill the hosting shifts at the overnight shelter site. This is really a wonderful “neighbors helping neighbors” volunteer opportunity. Although we have occasional other volunteer needs, this is our primary focus. We would love to welcome corporate and community groups as support teams for our shelter sites.
Why can’t you accept clothing donations?
We have very limited space at our day center. In addition, when our families come to us they come with all of their belongings in bags and more clothing is not necessarily helpful! There are times when we need specific, seasonable items in certain sizes. When that happens we will either post it on Facebook or send a note out to our volunteer coordinators.
Why is it so hard to donate my furniture?
When our families move into housing, they often need a lot of furniture and household items. We are so grateful to the community members who donate these items. Unfortunately, we have very little space to store any furniture donations and we can never predict what might be needed and when because we move about 12 families throughout the year with varying needs. For that reason, we do ask anyone who has furniture to hold onto it, sometimes for a few months. If this isn’t possible, we do understand! But, this way we can call back when items are needed.
What items do your guests need?
We always need new blankets (twin or full size) and new pillows to give to every guest that comes into the program. We also need full-size (not travel) toiletries, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications (both children and adults), and personal care items.
What if I have a car to donate?
Thank you! It is critical that our guests have personal transportation to get to work. Our car donation program is unusual in that if the car is in working order, it will go right to a client who is working and/or pursuing an education. For more information on how to donate your car please see the Donate Your Car section or call our office at 908-782-2490