(Wales, WI) In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Family Promise of Waukesha County has begun accepting donations for an Emergency Relief Fund that will focus on homelessness prevention and shelter.    Former guests such as Michelle Miller and her daughter and Leah Ryder, her partner Nick and her two children could be recipients of these funds.  Miller entered the shelter in November of 2018 and spent 45 days with Family Promise.  She distinctly remembers the day she met with the Family Promise social worker and entered the program.  “I am overwhelmed and crying and sitting there trying to answer her questions through all the tears and I don’t know what is going to happen.  [Being homeless] is so frustrating and stressful . . .”  Family homelessness has effects that are long-lasting and especially disruptive to the health, education, social well-being and behavior of children.  Those are the reasons why the Family Promise Emergency Relief Fund has the prevention of family homelessness as one goal.  These funds will be utilized to provide shelter to families who are experiencing homelessness and to prevent family homelessness by providing rent/mortgage assistance, utility assistance, grocery gift cards and auto repairs. These areas were targeted because they are focused on necessities and strongly impact a family’s ability to stay in their home.  Executive Director Joe Nettesheim stated that, “our purpose is to prevent the disruption to a family brought about by homelessness.  The effects of homelessness can change the trajectory of a child’s life.  Our first-priority is to help families remain in their homes.”  The Emergency Relief Fund has an ambitious goal of $100,000 with half of it to be focused on homelessness prevention.    The most vulnerable families are already feeling the effects of the shut-down.  Goff and her family spent six- weeks with Family Promise of Waukesha County.  Family Promise helped Leah, her partner Nick and her children Ava, (5) and Beau (6 months) find stable housing.  After leaving Family Promise they were experiencing success.  Recently though both her and Nick’s hours have been reduced.   She now worries about how her family will, “be able to afford the needs for our baby such as formula and diapers.” In addition, she wants to ensure the safety of her family and not “take the risk of being out in public . . . and bringing the virus home to our family.” 

Loss of jobs and limited hours will be difficult for families like Miller and Ryder.  According to a 2018 study by the Federal Reserve board, 40% of United States citizens cannot absorb an unexpected expense of more than $400.  Family Promise has been able to help Ryder with a portion of her rent, diapers, formula and other household necessities.  Miller has received some supplies and may need assistance with a car repair.  Nettesheim said that Family Promise is adjusting their model of service of only providing shelter to families experiencing homelessness to providing services to prevent families with children from becoming homeless.  Although Governor Evers has suspended evictions and foreclosures for 60 days, Nettesheim said,

“No no one knows what will happen at the end of those sixty days.  We are encouraging all families to stay current on their rent and mortgage.  We do not want families to fall behind on their rent and then get evicted three or four months down the road.   Our agenda is to help families like Michelle’s and Leah’s remain in their home and avoid the chaos of homelessness.” The average rent for a two bed-room apartment in Waukesha County is a little more than $900.  “If we reach our goal, we will be able to help about 50 families.  In a county the size of Waukesha and the projected economic impact of the coronavirus, our concern is that this amount could be a drop in the bucket.”  The fund received a $15,000 commitment when the Oconomowoc Area Foundation allowed a previously awarded grant to Family Promise to be utilized for homelessness prevention.  In addition, donors have already contributed close to another $15,000.  “The generosity of this community is overwhelming.  We still have a way to go but with the response of the members of Waukesha County we think there is a chance to meet both of our goals.”

 

The remaining $50,000 would be to provide shelter to families who are experiencing homelessness.  Since 2014 Family Promise has provided shelter to over 100 families.  Of the families who complete the program 90% remain living independently.   The Family Promise program relies on the facilities and volunteers of twenty-eight Waukesha County congregations.  Miller said, “. . . the volunteers made it so much more comforting. They were always there to talk or listen or just sit or offer some sort of help. I remember a gentleman, who spent two hours helping [my daughter] with her math homework one night. He was incredibly patient.  All of the volunteers were amazing.”

 

Besides providing food and shelter through faith communities, Family Promise provides a Day Center that offers families in the program a place to shower, use of a phone and address, some storage for personal effects, computers and resources for job seeking, retraining and apartment searches.  A social worker provides case management, helping guests to develop the necessary life skills to avoid recurring homelessness.   Goff said, “Family Promise helped us in numerous ways like helping us find stable housing.  We are so grateful to Family Promise and all they have done for our family.”  Nettesheim added, “Homelessness is like quicksand.  It is a dangerous place to be and impossible to get out without a helping hand from others.  Through our volunteers and financial contributors, Family Promise offers that helping hand.” 

 

One strength of Family Promise is that the organization continues to provide support once a family leaves a shelter.  With Churches closing the current focus is on homelessness prevention.  Nettesheim added, “We are proud that we are a constant in the lives of people who need stability.  We walk with families before, during and after their experience of homelessness.”  To that end, Family Promise is available by providing supplies, working with former guests and helping with homelessness prevention.  Miller said, “[Family Promise] took our family from the very beginning to the end and you continue with us . . . we are still here, we are still connected.”

 

The Emergency Relief Fund runs through April 1.  Donations can be made online https://www.fpgives.org/organizations/family-promise-of-waukesha-county