A 13-year-old homeless child won't be allowed to stay with his or her family at a homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta. Rules at those shelters treat teens as adults, separating them from their parents.
In Fulton County, only The Drake House allows children to stay with their mothers.
That's where Family Promise of Fulton County hopes to help out. The new ministry will have 13 congregations that will each house homeless families for one week per quarter in the church or synagogue facilities. Eight congregations had signed up so far, including Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs. Once the non-profit status is approved, they'll change the name to reflect the north metro nature of the group.
Temple Sinai Associate Rabbi Bradley Levenberg explained to members of the Windward Rotary Club at their Monday meeting at the that these homless families may not have homes, but they aren't necessarily car-less or jobless. They just need a few months to get back on their feet and find new housing. A typical family might have lost the home they were renting when it foreclosed. They don't have the time or money to find new housing, but the family needs shelter.
The congregations step in, with each housing up to four homeless families a week at a time for four weeks during the year. A section of the church or synagogue facilities would be set aside for the families. The congregation would prepare the space to give each family some privacy.
Family Promise provides support for the families. While children are in school, the parents are working with the Family Promise advocate and a social worker to help the family improve its situation. The parents are either working with these advocates at the Family Promise day center, or are at their jobs if they are employed.
The program relies heavily on volunteers at each of the churches and synagogues, and at the supporting agencies.
Rabbi Levenberg said he got involved when he heard the number 292. That's the number of homeless children enrolled in Fulton County Schools at the start of the school year. What he envisioned as a problem in downtown Atlanta became a real issue for the entire county.
Levenberg said most referrals for Family Promise organizations come from school counselors and social workers. The families have to apply to the program, and must meet requirements that include no drinking or smoking while in the program, no drugs, no criminal background that wouldn't allow a family member to be housed with other families, and strict adherence to rules that include lights out at specific times for children and adults.
The Family Promise of Fulton County board of directors, of which Levenberg is the chairman, are seeking five more congregations to be able to start helping homeless families.
The eight host congregations include:
- Temple Sinai
- Northminster Presbyterian
- Congregation Beth Tikvah
- Dunwoody United Methodist Church
- Roswell United Methodist Church
- St. Luke's in Dunwoody