By Janet Schuchmann
The first Faith Family Hospitality family that I met was Lance, Janie, their 3 year old daughter, Annabel and 2 year old son, Zander. Walt and I had arrived early at Peak Community Church for our first overnight hosting. The church was still locked, so we spent 15 minutes talking with Lance and Janie and watching the antics of the kids. Later, as we toured the church with the families, Zander came out of his bedroom with his Thomas the Train cap and said to me “You don’t have a hat”. I looked around and everyone but me did have a cap on. Zander was offering to share his hat so I would not be left out.
Walt and I learned about Faith Family Hospitality (FFH) at a FPC class titled Christian Response to Poverty. There are 27 faith communities involved in hosting or assisting with hosting homeless families. Families sleep at a church for one week, then are moved to the next church in the rotation. Dominations represented include Methodist, Unitarian, Evangelical Covenant, Mennonite, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Church of God, Episcopal, Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, Baptist, Community of Christ, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Quaker and nondenominational Christian. These faith communities have found a common mission that transcends differences in beliefs.
Walt and I felt the program was a way to give a Hand Up, not a Hand Out. We wanted to get more involved but did not think we would feel comfortable being overnight hosts. We attended volunteer training and learned that volunteer needs include preparing meals, providing breakfast foods, setting up the rooms on Sunday afternoon, taking down and packing up rooms on the following Sunday morning and washing bedding and towels so they will be ready for the next rotation. After completing the training and hearing from those with experience hosting, we decided that we would feel comfortable in the overnight host role.
That first night, we shared a meal with the families, asked them about their day and spent some time playing with the kids. The families went to their rooms early because they were tired from a day of work, school, or searching for support services. At other times since, parents have come down after the kids go to sleep to talk about the struggles they are having. We are not there to counsel, but just to listen.
The families are typical families; a single father who calls to his 4 year old daughter to “come to the table and eat with your family”, a mother who adjusts her son’s costume as the families head out for Halloween, a father who is late for dinner because he is a master mechanic and has gone out to help another family with car trouble, a parent who gets up early to read quietly before the children awaken. As Lance was heading off to bed that first night, he said to his wife, “I don’t have clean socks for work tomorrow.” We learned that there are laundry facilities at Catholic Charities, but people must take a number and may or may not get to do laundry that day. There are also vouchers for some laundries, but try to imagine hauling your dirty clothes on a bus to a laundry that accepts those vouchers.
The next morning, our duties were to set out and serve breakfast. Although we were up at 6:00 am, one father had grabbed some coffee and was already off to work. The others came down as they got ready for their day, had a quick breakfast and were on their way. By 7:30, all were gone and we were packing up our sleeping bags and heading home.
In addition to overnight lodging, FFH operates a Day Center. While volunteering at the Day Center, I often find children playing with the abundant toys while the parent uses the computer for their job search. A grandparent would bring his 3 year old granddaughter in for a much needed nap. An adult may request help with a computer or just want me to listen to the challenges they have faced that day. Laurie, a previous guest, was often on the phone looking for programs to support her special needs son. Last week, a newly pregnant mother-to-be asked for help finding a book on a healthy pregnancy and a father asked to borrow some children’s books so he could read to his son later that evening. Most importantly, there are now washers and dryers where guests can do laundry and beautifully tiled showers for both current guests and those on the waiting list. FFH’s Program Director gives guidance and support about services that are available. Families set goals with the help of the Program Director and must continually work towards achieving those goals in order to continue in the program.
Some families find housing quickly, like Jen and Nathan Salazar and their three delightful daughters, Ariana, Kylie and Olivia who recently moved into an apartment. The Salazars joined Bobby, his two sons and young daughter, and Tammy, Dan, and their special needs son, Jake, who had also recently moved into their own homes with the help of FFH. There is celebration when a family moves into housing and also joy that there is now room for a new family with FFH.
The families give back to FFH and each other. Nathan continues to help keep other guests’ cars running. Tammy volunteers at the Day Center and helped paint the Program Directors’ office. Brett has a construction background and helped with the construction and tile in the showers. Bobby is a plant specialist at a local garden center and arranged the donation of flowers for centerpieces at the annual volunteer dinner.
FPC will have an opportunity to be the host families the week of May 24, 2015. Members of the congregation will have the opportunity to meet and interact with these families. You will find that they are much like your friends and neighbors but circumstances have caused them to be temporarily homeless. There will be training at FPC on Sunday, May 3 so that all volunteers can feel as comfortable in the role they choose as Walt and I did the first night that we hosted at Peak Community Church.
But there still are unmet needs. There is a shortage of rooms for homeless families in Fort Collins and a perpetual waiting list at FFH. Sadly, there are families sleeping in their cars or on the streets. A dream of FFH is to find the funds, volunteers and facilities to increase the number of families that can be hosted. We at FPC could help make that happen!