Sheltering Homeless Families Is Challenging

Family Promise Director Courtney Jensen
Family Promise Director Courtney Jensen

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Families who are experiencing homelessness pose a unique set of problems for communities. The reasons for their homelessness are similar to those for people who are homeless who are not part of a family unit. The pandemic, coupled with the Denver rental market, has contributed to the inability of some families to find housing. Without cost effective housing alternatives, it is difficult for them to maintain a job, ensure school attendance for their children, and access emergency funding. The school-aged children who are in families who are homeless are more likely to experience significant emotional, behavioral and health problems. They are more likely to be out of the classroom for absences and to experience gaps in their educational progress, and may drop out before completing high school.

Because this is a community problem, leaders of Denver initiatives believe it must be solved at the community level. One such initiative is Family Promise, a Denver-based organization that offers support to homeless families with children. Started in Denver in 1997, it has worked since then with families who are homeless. Clients contact Family Promise (either on their own or after being referred by another agency) and receive services to assist them with temporary housing. Although Family Promise is considered emergency housing, the staff works closely with families and other agencies to find long-term housing assistance. There are not enough long-term units for the families who need them.

Before March 2020, Family Promise provided services during the day, and in a network of temporary night placements in local churches. Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church, at 20th and Simms, is one of 11 faith communities in the west area rotation. Since 1998 Family Promise has been one of the organizations to which the church has committed resources and volunteer time. Church members donated food, set up beds and stayed overnight with the families to assist in case of emergencies.

Since the pandemic shutdown, Family Promise found funding to provide rooms in long-term-stay motels. According to Director Courtney Jensen, these motels offer a good solution right now for families who need a stable transitional housing option, with privacy and a small kitchen for preparing meals. This program for temporary housing will continue through the end of 2021.

At this time, faith communities like Shepherd of the Hills as well as federal and local government agencies and nonprofits have continued to provide monetary support, gas cards and food to Family Promise. One current unmet need is for gently used furniture and other items to be used by families as they establish new homes.

In June, Family Promise will participate in “A Night to End Homelessness.” More information about Family Promise events is available at: www.familypromiseofgreaterdenver.org/events

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