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Gains in move to support homeless families in Kandiyohi County

WILLMAR — Organizers are nearing the halfway mark toward recruiting enough churches to launch a program to address the problem of homelessness in Kandiyohi County.

Organizers say six churches have agreed to participate in Family Promise, an interfaith hospitality network for helping homeless families with children. They need seven more churches to agree to be hosts, along with a number of support congregations, before launching the program.

Sherman Schueler of Svea, temporary chair of Family Promise of Kandiyohi County, said he recognizes that church members need time to have questioned answered and receive accurate information before signing on.

“It takes you time to do that so that your community is behind you and they know why,’’ said Schueler.

Family Promise Regional Director Jeanna Stewart of Summit, N.J., said the program emphasizes keeping families together and providing a safe, loving environment for children, and also bringing community and congregations together to provide that loving support for those families.

The time required to organize host and support congregations can vary from one to three years, said Stewart during a community meeting Thursday night at First Presbyterian Church.

Schueler said one of the first congregations to decide quickly was Calvary Lutheran Church of Willmar, where the decision was made in about two weeks. Most churches go through a prolonged decision-making process because some people are unsure about it, he said.

Stewart said the organizational process takes community support and leadership to put the pieces together. She said the national Family Promise organization provides training but it’s up to local people to make it happen.

Schueler said funding needs to first come from the local faith community; they seek other funding sources later.

“You can’t go out to ask for funding until you can convince them that you’re a bonafide organization,’’ he said. “From our faith background at some point we have to stand up and be counted and trust that the money we’re giving is going to go for a good cause, and we’re asking the people of the faith community to lay that foundation. It’s going to be an ongoing issue.’’

Congregations agreeing to be hosts are Svea Lutheran Church, United Methodist Church, Vinje Lutheran Church, Calvary Lutheran Church, Evangelical Covenant Church of New London, and First Baptist Church.

Churches agreeing to be support congregations are Salem Covenant Church, Unitarian Universalist, Paz y Esperanza, and Willmar Mosque.

Statistics show more than 600,000 people are homeless in the U.S., and families with children are a growing segment.

In Minnesota, the Coalition for the Homeless says the homeless population has increased from 3,079 in 1991 to 10,214 in 2012. The number of children with parents has also risen during the same period from 889 to 3,546.

On a typical day in January 2013, there were 124 homeless households in southwestern Minnesota (both unsheltered and “doubled up’’). Of that number, 68 were households with children. In Kandiyohi County, there were 36 homeless households comprising over 100 people.

A group of concerned citizens has been discussing how to address the homelessness problem in Kandiyohi County and formed the Kandiyohi Homeless Task Force. They looked at ideas ranging from shelters and vouchers to leasing motel rooms and hospitality networks.

They recommended two approaches: Safe Harbor, working with Heartland Community Action Agency in Willmar to provide long-term leased motel rooms for homeless individuals; and Family Promise.

Host congregations provide overnight lodging for up to five families (14 people maximum) in their church. The effort needs 13 churches to serve as host congregations: one week at a time for 4 times per year. Families arrive in the evening and enjoy a dinner provided by church volunteers. Volunteers stay at the churches with families overnight.

The next morning, a continental breakfast is served. Bag lunches are provided. Adults are taken by Family Promise van to the day center. School-age children attend school. At the end of the week, families move to the next host congregation.

The day center is a place where non-working, homeless adults spend the day. They receive help finding a permanent home, jobs and other services. Young children not in school will also spend the day at the day center. Day center facilities include showers and laundry.

Options are being explored to find a day center location.

Youth and adults Raise the awareness of homelessness

Young people and adults seeking to raise awareness about the homeless problem in Kandiyohi County experienced some of the difficulties of being homeless as they slept in boxes the night of Sept. 20.

They set up a cardboard box city and spent the night on the lawn of Bethel Lutheran Church adjacent to Fourth Street Southwest. Participants decorated ceramic tiles with themes about the issue of hunger homelessness. The tiles will be displayed at the Willmar Area Food Shelf.

The event was sponsored by Family Promise of Kandiyohi County and Safe Harbors, which are two new programs for serving the needs of homeless people.

The evening included music by CTI, a game called Homelessness, Hunger and Advocacy Jeopardy, and a showing of the movie about the struggle of a homeless family called “Pursuit of Happyness.’’

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150