Archive for Sunday, June 14, 2009

Program helps homeless get back on their feet

Cecelia Mora-Benimon watches her 2-year-old daughter, Essence, play. Mora-Benimon participated in a Family Promise program that helped her get a two-bedroom house. Family Promise assists homeless families who will graduate into permanent housing.

Cecelia Mora-Benimon watches her 2-year-old daughter, Essence, play. Mora-Benimon participated in a Family Promise program that helped her get a two-bedroom house. Family Promise assists homeless families who will graduate into permanent housing.

June 14, 2009


Cecelia Mora-Benimon knew she was homeless.

But it took what she calls a “breakdown” moment for it to really sink in.

It was last December, and she and her 2-year-old daughter, Essence, had recently been accepted to the Family Promise program, a Lawrence-based nonprofit organization that has been providing shelter to homeless families since November.

Mora-Benimon was in her car waiting for a staff person from Family Promise to return from lunch.

It was cold, and her car’s heater was broken. She was out of formula for her daughter. Her gas tank was empty.

It was then that she really understood her situation.

“I had nowhere to go,” Mora-Benimon said.

Her journey through homelessness began when she moved back to Lawrence from North Dakota to finish her degree at Haskell Indian Nations University. She was staying with family, but when her relatives lost their housing, she and her daughter were without a home for the first time in her life.

“I never thought I’d ever be homeless,” she said.

But after seven months in the Family Promise program, she won’t be homeless for long. Through a federal transitional housing program, Mora-Benimon will be moving into a two-bedroom house in east Lawrence with her daughter this week. She’s eligible for the transitional housing for at least two years, but said that her ultimate goal is to pay for housing without any assistance.

Mora-Benimon joins two other Family Promise families in the past few weeks to become the first to “graduate” from the program and move into their own housing.

It’s a sign that the program is working and making a difference in our community, said Executive Director Valerie Miller-Coleman. “Lives are being changed,” Miller-Colman said.

Initial concerns

The program faced some initial obstacles regarding city shelter regulations, but the City Commission in February backed off proposed regulations that would have required the churches involved to make expensive alterations to their buildings. Miller-Coleman also said that some of the initial concerns from the community about potential problems in the neighborhoods around the churches had not been an issue.

Participants in the program spend their days during the week at a home in Lawrence that also functions as the Family Promise’s headquarters. Family Promise staff members and volunteers work with participants during the day on life skills and job searching, as well as assist with day care and transportation so that participants can attend appointments and interviews.

Miller-Coleman said that all of the families set goals for themselves and the services the program provides is tailored to the needs of participants.

Miller-Coleman said she asks two main questions when participants enter the program: “What do you want for your family and what do you need to get there?”

Participants then spend their nights at area churches staffed by volunteers.

Home-like settings

Morningstar Christian Church, 998 N. 1771 Road, is one of 13 area rotating host churches that transform their buildings into homes for the participants for a week at a time. When the church hosted the families last week, the building looked like anything but a shelter. Volunteers and participants roamed the building playing games with the kids, working with the parents on their goals and making dinner for the group.

The home-like environment is part of the plan for the Family Promise, which attempts to provide families with stability as they work on their goal of permanent housing.

But finding permanent housing can be a frustrating and complicated task for participants who are dealing with a variety of issues and who have faced many setbacks.

Program participant Carla Starnes, 30, has been homeless for two years and says she’s bounced around four shelters in several area counties. Starnes is at the program with her 1-year-old son, R’sean, and she said that until she entered the Family Promise program, she had nearly given up on getting her life back on track.

“I felt like there was no hope,” Starnes said.

That’s changed in her one month with the program, she said.

“There’s a lot of people behind me,” Starnes said. “I never knew people could be so nice.”

Mora-Benimon has also faced her share of setbacks while in the program. She’s been denied housing three times, and had many of what she calls “give up” moments. But the support from the program and others in the Lawrence community have kept her going.

When she needed extensive dental work, Lawrence dentist Marvin Heinbach donated thousands of dollars in dental care. When she didn’t have money for Christmas presents for her daughter, volunteers bought presents for her and her daughter. When she needed a car to get to work, one of the churches gave her a truck.

The benefits of the Family Promise have gone both ways for the roughly 1,000 volunteers who have helped out with the program, said Peter Luckey, the senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, one of the host churches for the program.

Works both ways

A positive byproduct of the program has been bringing the volunteers closer to social issues that may not affect them personally, he said.

“We live segregated lives,” said Luckey of the divide between the homeless and the Lawrence community. But the program has helped volunteers understand that homelessness happens to people not that different from them, he said.

“(The program) really puts a human face on it,” said Miller-Coleman, adding that real and lasting friendships develop between the participants and the volunteers.

In addition to finding housing, Mora-Benimon has been making progress in her other goals. She is scheduled to graduate next spring from Haskell with a degree in business administration, and she secured a paid internship this summer through the university. She said it’s all been made possible through the new network of friends and support she’s developed in the program.

“I’ve never met so many people who give,” she said.


lionheart72661 8 years, 10 months ago

Gee, she doesn't look like some drunk, derelict bum to me! Like i said in the past for all of you that "THINK" they know what they are talking about when it comes to the homeless, "IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE,EVEN YOU" so let's stop misjudging the homeless and start helping them.

skinny 8 years, 10 months ago

lionheart7266,1 I have no problem at all helping people who want to help themselves. However I'd say about 95 present of the Lawrence homeless population are drunks or druggies and have in intention of helping themselves. Especially when the city of Lawrence gives them a free ride. They in turn comment crimes, urinate in public and harass our fine community downtown. This in turn drives people to do their shopping elsewhere and in turn causes the tax revenue to drop. Get the BIG picture?? One shelter in this town is enough.

guardianangel 8 years, 10 months ago

These people that take and take and take from society are lazy. Our taxes pay for their free housing and free automobiles. There are jobs out there. These people know where to get a free ride from society. The so called homeless know that Lawrence is the city to come to for a free ride. These people need to get a job and keep it, save their money instead of spending it on needless things and use birth control like most responsible people.

Lori Nation 8 years, 10 months ago

Dang its so easy for homeless or people living on assistance to get homes, but we as paying citizens have to pay dearly to own a home. Maybe we should become homeless we could get a home faster!!

Steve Jacob 8 years, 10 months ago

This is a positive homeless story, so let's be positive! It is clear from "Promise" and now the Salvation Army that homeless with kids/families has alot more rate of success then single homeless people.

Tandava 8 years, 10 months ago

A few weeks ago, I was at 9th and Mass sitting on a bench eating a hot dog I had just purchased from that guy who sometimes has a sidewalk hot dog stand there on the NE corner. While I was there, several dirty, shabbily-dressed people walked by. They were obviously homeless or transients or something like that. One of them came over and asked the hot dog guy if he had any old hot dogs that had been dropped on the ground, presumably (and correctly) figuring that the guy wouldn't just give him one. (He didn't.) A couple more of these people asked him for money. And another one of them even asked him for some "weed".

I couldn't believe the scene that just played out before my eyes. All of these people may have had some kind of mental problems, but they were certainly able-bodied. They were not just walking around on their own two feet, but were lively and seemed to be in good enough health to be able to do just about anything. What struck me profoundly was not only the supreme irony of these able-bodied people begging from a guy in a wheelchair, but also that the irony seemed to escape them altogether! Here's the hot dog guy, confined to a wheelchair with paralyzed legs, running his own business, and these able-bodied but apparently-worthless bums are begging from him! It was a pitiful sight. They were totally shameless.

The guy in the wheelchair works at other things, too, I'm sure, and I and I believe he also owns his own home.

monkeyhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

Perhaps there could be some courses taught, beginning early in life, regarding the consequences of bad decisions. This story may have a good outcome,but just like preventative medicine, how about some preventative government dependency classes? Young people need to learn to take care of themselves once they become adults instead of relying on others to provide for them.

geekin_topekan 8 years, 10 months ago

"Dang its so easy for homeless or people living on assistance to get homes, but we as paying citizens have to pay dearly to own a home. Maybe we should become homeless we could get a home faster!!

++++ Do it!! Don't stand there just to point and whine!Do it!!Your creditbility is on the line.Loser.

Kynsicat 8 years, 10 months ago


It's easy for you to say "get a job" etc., but Cecelia has a 2 year old. If you have nobody (family or friends) who is able to help with childcare, working more than PT is very difficult. Childcare prices are OUTRAGEOUS, so working a minimum wage or not great paying job (if that's all that one can find/get) is basically paying for the childcare and nothing else. Try looking at the whole situation before you judge. At least Cecelia is striving for a better life and doing what she can for that. I applaud her for it.

Chris Ogle 8 years, 10 months ago

She’s eligible for the transitional housing for at least two years, but said that her ultimate goal is to pay for housing without any assistance.

Hang in there, Ms. Mora-Benimon!!!

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 10 months ago

So, no matter what, some posters are determined to cling to their hatred and prejudice. The homeless who are working to change their lives are not walking down Mass street. I have no idea what someone means when they write dirty and shabby. They means so many things to different people. I am glad people are getting help.

geekin_topekan 8 years, 10 months ago

" I'm giving up my job tomorrow and am off to the “Family Promise” office." ++++ You wouldnt last a day in the life of this young lady. Act, instead of blowing oral diarhea, and you may have something to back your sniveling.

MaryKatesPillStash 8 years, 10 months ago


Asking the "guy in the wheelchair" for a hotdog that had been dropped on the ground is shameless?!?! I mean, are you kidding?

And Iristh1230, I challenge you to spend just one of your weekends being "homeless." As you become hungry, force yourself to ask someone for food or money. It really takes a toll on your self-esteem. I guarantee you will think differently about those who are not as fortunate as you if you put yourself in their shoes for just a short time.

WHY 8 years, 10 months ago

Why do people keep challenging us to try being homeless. It just isn't that hard not to be homeless. I know lots of dumb poor people who have a home. An small apartment cost $300-400 a month in a crappy neighborhood. Even a minimum wage employee can make that in two weeks.

ccmorabenimon 8 years, 10 months ago

Hi this is cecelia mora benimon I have been reading the comments that have been left on the story done on family promise. I just wanted to share the situation a little more in detail. I am full time student at Haskell University. I do have a part-time job as well. I am working for my Bachelor's degree in Business Management. I have an internship regarding climate change. I never expected to be homeless. I also had prejudgements about homeless people. But you really don't get the understanding of it till it happens to you. I have been on my own for a while and to having to depend on the system was something I didn't want to do. But things change when you have kids. I wil do whatever I have to do to get support for my child. She is two and was born 3 months early with disabilities, so having a stable living enviroment had to happen. I have doctors appointments constantly for her. There are not many jobs that will work with a schedule as hetic as mine. So I thank god that I was able to get a part time job. My main goals is to graduate and go on to my Masters. I want permanent housing for me and my child and not have to live on assistant. But at this time it is not an option for me. I thank god for those people that understand that situation as well as for the people at family promise. Much love to everyone. Be Blessed

kappyblu 8 years, 10 months ago

Bless you, Cecelia and your little girl. I wish you two all the best! Good for you for working so hard. Take care, hon.

Btw, don't listen to all those haters out there. Some people are only happy spouting their misery off to others.

guardianangel 8 years, 10 months ago

Cecelia, I am glad you are starting to take responsibility for yourself and your child. Our tax dollars pay for you and your child on a daily basis. I am not prejudging you. I used to work for Bert Nash. I helped people like you. 99% of Bert Nash's clients take advantage of society. The homeless enjoy being homeless. Most homeless would never go back to a responsible lifestyle because they have a free ride now. They enjoy the freedom and they will take what they can get and more.

rocketmom67 8 years, 10 months ago

Thank you Family Promise for all you do and all the dedicated volunteers that help out. Thank you for helping this mama and her baby. Thank you for helping a family I know as well. I ran into the child and who was so excited to be staying at a church instead of the shelter. This family is working so hard to improve their circumstances and it is not a substance abuse situation at all. Just a starting from scratch situation. It is a hard system to navigate. Help just doesn't come knocking on your door. It sounds free and easy to get assistance but if you have never sought assistance it is difficult to know where to start, how to properly fill out the paperwork, where to go for help, how to get all the documents in order--particular if you do not read and write well. Thank God for places like Family Promise and E-Housing to provide case management and linking folks to resources. Cecelia keep up the good work! Be proud of your accomplishments. These systems are there to help you become self-sufficient--go for it! I've been there too as a single mom and relied on all the assistance I could get so I could finish school. Now I have a master's degree and a job helping people. It is my way of giving back for all the blessings and support I received to get through. I have met other incredible mom's too that have done the same thing. You're doing as awesome job! Keep up the good work and use all the resources that are out there. You are an inspiration to other women out there!

angeltotherescue 8 years, 10 months ago

so even if a homeless person does the all the right things she's still a bum right?? all the people who think they have room to talk should be slapped!! This is a women who only wants whats best in life for her child and you people don't know her, her real situation or anything so for you to have the foolishness to compare this hard working, devoted, astonishing women to a bum is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. what gives anyone the right to judge anyone?? who's with out sin cast the first stone!!! what if the boyfriend was an abusive man she had to flee from and she's out trying to make it on her own?? err what if her parents died and she couldn't live where she was anymore?? so lets all be oblivious to the world around with the economy jobs ain't as easy to find and compare our lives to the ones who actually have to do some extra work to get on top!! I applaud this young women and even with homelessness as a barrier she is pushing through!!! half of the people would just go back to mommy and daddy's house if times got hard!! Can't nothing stop her!!! so cece keep going girl can't nothing get you down and may god have Mersey on the hearts of the ignorant!!

rocketmom67 8 years, 10 months ago

There is a difference between homeless and chronically homeless. My understanding is that Family Promise does not take folks who are substance using and E-housing does not take folks who are chronically homeless. These are much different populations with much different barriers.

Haiku_Cuckoo 8 years, 10 months ago

More power to Cecelia. She is an example of what every other homeless person should be doing; making continual steps to get back on her feet. She didn't waste her time getting drunk at the Lawrence Community Shelter or panhandling on Mass Street like so many other people that we see. She is living proof that there is definitely a way out of homelessness if the person has the right attitude.

I hope Loring Henderson is taking notes. His shelter enables and facilitates self-destructive lifestyles. If the Lawrence Community Shelter actually helped people get back on their feet the same way Family Promise does, there wouldn't be nearly as much opposition.

Cecelia, you rock!!! Good for you for getting your life back in order. I wish you the very best of success in the future.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 10 months ago

I know when I was first homeless, I was in such shock, it was almost like being catatonic. People might have mistook that for my not caring, or not wanting to do anything. It was a huge struggle for me to ask my church for money to buy hygiene supplies, but they gave it with a smile. And, a member gave me a bus pass to get around to do things. The despair can be so utter and so complete it can paralyze you. It was sheer bliss to have a home, a bed to sleep on and a private shower. To eat what I wanted, when I wanted. It was, and is, marvelous. So, I would say this, never take your home and family and friends for granted. I think the woman should have bought the man and the dog both something.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 10 months ago

He might have been furious because he thought she meant it for both of them. Did she?

disgustedagain 8 years, 10 months ago

Wow. Had to stop reading these comments.

GOOD for you Ms. Mora-Benimon. You show great courage and determination in the face of incredible hardship.

Don't read the hateful comments. They are people who probably have severe personality problems and get relief by posting nasty diatribes online anonymously. Not worth your time.

Hope things go better for you in future. Anyone can become homeless anytime in this economy and anyone who doesn't believe this is in denial out of fear probably. Whenever the economy gets bad, individuals let personal fear override any concern for others' wellbeing. A sad but common human weakness. (Thank god GuardianAngel doesn't work at Bert Nash anymore and with that kind of attitude who hired her to begin with??)

godsmackedmeagain 8 years, 10 months ago

I cannot believe some of these comments. how they have it so easy and so on , i am going to quit my job and go to family promise tomorrow , what am I hearing. we are americans people . we need to take care of each other instead of bitch about how others get things , look at ourselves , me included , ok i dont have a fancy car and i anm a renter , but thank god I have a place to come home to and my children are clothed and fed . times are bad .real bad we dont know peoples situations and we cannot judge. if we can get the government to help out our own then be happy . the money the gov puts out to feed other countries and is astronomical,we are hurting right here at home and maybe just maybe the help that we give each other will pay off one day I can say this from experience. yes I once was a homeless vet and yes I given another chance and I finally made something of myself and am able to help others and thats what I choose to do , trust me homeless people are not getting the easy way out and they are not all drunks like one comment said . again come on people WE ARE AMERICA lets act that way .

begin60 8 years, 10 months ago

Congratulations to Cecelia on all her accomplishments. Good for you for sticking in there and earning your degree and learning to set goals for the future.

tsunami02 8 years, 10 months ago

WOW, how many of us are 1 to 2 paychecks from being in this situation?

geekin_topekan 8 years, 10 months ago

GaurdianAngel said_"Our tax dollars pay for you and your child on a daily basis. " ++++ Is GA saying that he/she never accepted a single dime for the service to Bert Nash? Did GA drive to work on MY tax supported streets or use the restroom in MY supported buildings? Gaurdian, I have been supporting your sorry arse as well so shove that self righteous BS up yours!!

50YearResident 8 years, 10 months ago

and may god have Mersey on the hearts of the ignorant!! Amen, Amen

guardianangel 8 years, 10 months ago

Geekintopekan & Disgustedagain, you are both so ignorant about how Bert Nash and other social service agencies work. You both need an attitude adjustment. You both should sign up for mental health services. This is why our society is turning so stupid.

sandersen 8 years, 10 months ago


Perhaps you should find a career that you truly enjoy, that fulfills you, as it quite obvious you are filled with bitterness and resentment working the field of your current "career". I have some questions in my mind as to how anyone whom terms themselves "guardianangel" and claims to have helped so many less fortunate individuals can sound so pathologically heartless.

Absolutely chilling. I cannot imagine you "counseling" anyone with empathy, compassion or concern, let alone truly helping them.

notajayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

guardianangel (Anonymous) says…

"These people that take and take and take from society are lazy."

Have you considered changing your screen name, per chance?

edjayhawk (Anonymous) says…

"I think there could be some incentives for those who are drug and alcohol addicts. Like make them go into some form of detox 12 step program before they can receive any tax-assisted and public services."

Do they have Shelter-Plus over here? In Missouri they have a program that works like Section 8, except the money comes through the Dept of MH. Just like section 8, the recipient pays a percentage of their income for rent and get a voucher for the rest. They have to continue on in services (on our own grant, they have to be dually-diagnosed) and comply with the rules (like staying clean and sober) to keep the voucher.

WHY (Anonymous) says…

"Why do people keep challenging us to try being homeless. It just isn't that hard not to be homeless. I know lots of dumb poor people who have a home. An small apartment cost $300-400 a month in a crappy neighborhood. Even a minimum wage employee can make that in two weeks."

Apparently (and thankfully) WHY hasn't found anyone willing to breed with him/her yet - else they might have a clue as to how much it takes to support a two-year-old.

sandersen 8 years, 10 months ago


As a mother with a disabled child, I commend your bravery, your persistence and your continued advocacy for your child. Think nothing of the ugly rants and slights thrown your way by some on these boards. You are persevering, and have every reason to feel proud of yourself for being the woman, mother and human being that you are. Just realize, those that are most vitriolic and hateful are the least likely to improve their world, or to leave any lasting accomplishment of merit behind them.

Continue, live and love, make the world a little brighter for each whose life you impact.

WHY 8 years, 10 months ago

Notajayhawk-- ha ha very funny. But no really, a two year old does not cost much at all. They eat very little and aside from diapers there is no real cost. Most of the money people spend on babies is for ediebaur carseats. Homeless are homeless because every one they know doesn't want them to live with them. If their friends and family don't want them why are you surprised that I don't.

notajayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

WHY (Anonymous) says…

"But no really, a two year old does not cost much at all. They eat very little and aside from diapers there is no real cost. Most of the money people spend on babies is for ediebaur carseats."

Do the world a favor.

Do not reproduce.

gmaikido 8 years, 10 months ago

cecelia mora benimon you appear head-strong and goal oriented. I am happy you and your child will receive the assistance you need. Never give up no matter what barrier in life arises. You are an inspiration to all of us.

For someone to actually say that 99% of Bert Nash consumers enjoy a free ride is an outrageous assumption that is not fact based which truly leads me to believe you did not work for Bert Nash. If you did then you were hopelessly unaware and undeserving of a pay check. I will agree that some people want a free ride but this number is less than 10%.

At Bert Nash, I coordinated the homeless program for many years. The people I met really enriched my life. These included the consumers, professionals and citizens all joined together to advocate for one thing...HOPE & CHANGE.

Without hope people will not succeed because of a life cycle of hopelessness and helplessness that was induced by poverty, early childhood trauma, adult trauma, psychosis, medical health, loss of job etc. Years ago, I was happy to see the community ban together and advcate for change when we had people dying on the streets which accounted for 100% of homeless deaths in KS-reported by KS StateWide Homeless Coalition.

I am pleased to hear Salvation Army will provide transitional living with the unfortunate dilema of closing their shelter. Lawrence needs a permanent homeless shelter that could accomodate for 100% of the population on the streets. I would hope a shelter providing this service would not just provide shelter but provide a mean to end this lifestyle. One such program, for example, sponsored by HUD is the moving ahead program. MAP is evidenced based practise and has high positive outcome measures of moving people from homeless to productive citizenship. Topeka has adopted this program.

Without an evidenced based program available then all Lawrence is doing is reducing the harm of people being on the streets. For you hard liners who are adimently against helping those in need ask yourself this. If adequate shelter is not provided then where would one sleep? How about your back yard, front porch, shed, or even your bed. Wouldn't be rationale to have people in a shelter instead of wondering your neighboorhood?

I tell all of you by experience very small percentage of homeless and/or mentally ill are dangerous to others. People are scared of what they do not know or care to know. Becaue someone does not look or act the way you do why not treat them with respect. WWJD.

We are all human. We all make mistakes and we all experience turmoil in our lives. Some people have more resources and better coping skills than others. I believe the community has the responsibility to make the community better and provide a safety net for those Unable to care for themselves by giving one the resources and support to move forward. This is not ENABLING this is helping, this is love, this is HOPE, this is righteousness.

sustainabilitysister 8 years, 10 months ago

What a great organization. Best of luck to Cecelia and Carla! I don't know how single mothers and fathers do it. Hats off to them!

kappyblu 8 years, 10 months ago

WHY (Anonymous) says…

"Notajayhawk— ha ha very funny. But no really, a two year old does not cost much at all. They eat very little and aside from diapers there is no real cost. Most of the money people spend on babies is for ediebaur carseats. Homeless are homeless because every one they know doesn't want them to live with them. If their friends and family don't want them why are you surprised that I don't."

Are you serious? Kids cost a lot of money no matter what age they are! Clothes, diapers, childcare, food, shelter, doctors, plus she has special needs so more $$, books, toys, necessities, tons of other things and yes CAR SEATS!

I agree with notajayhawk.

WHY 8 years, 10 months ago

Sorry but I have already been there and it didn't cost much at all. Clothes come free, watch the kid yourself, I already had an apartment, he ate breast milk which is free then ate what ever I was having just not as much.

mad_anne 8 years, 10 months ago

Cece - it has been a blessing to me and my family to get to know you and Essence. You are a good mother and you have an iron will. Hang tough with your classes - you have much to be proud of. Keep your chin up and don't waste your time reading anything here that isn't an encouragement to you -- many people will never understand unless they can walk in your shoes, and you can't take the negative comments personally. I hope we see you soon!

Big hugs, Anne

Liberty275 8 years, 10 months ago

Maybe she could find a husband with a house.

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