The holidays were a lot different for Lawrence resident Roxanne Hutchinson last year.
Hutchinson and her 12-year-old daughter, Jasmine, were facing eviction from their Eudora home after Hutchinson became disabled and could no longer work. The bills were piling up, and come Jan. 1 they’d be evicted.
“I couldn’t get any work ... I got really depressed. There’s just not enough money,” said Hutchinson of their fragile situation at the end of 2008.
But a year later, Hutchinson and Jasmine celebrated Thanksgiving with a small group of relatives in their new home — a duplex in Lawrence — and they don’t have to worry about where they’ll be after the holidays.
The improved outlook was made possible by the assistance of Family Promise, a Lawrence organization that helps homeless families.
“If it weren’t for Family Promise, I’d probably be living on the streets,” said Hutchinson. She and Jasmine were the first Family Promise participants to find permanent housing through the program, which helped Hutchinson secure Social Security disability benefits to go toward the rent on their duplex.
After celebrating its one-year anniversary of helping homeless families on Nov. 15, Family Promise executive director Valerie Miller-Coleman said the Lawrence community has stepped up to make the program a success.
“It’s just been amazing to see the community outpouring,” she said.
Family Promise, modeled after a national program, uses area congregations who open up their facilities one week at a time for up to four homeless families. The congregations also staff the facilities with volunteers, who do everything from child care to cooking to assisting with job searches. Participants in the program spend the day at the Family Promise office, working with staff on securing housing and dealing with other issues and obstacles to permanent housing.
Many of the participants make personal connections with the volunteers, said Miller-Coleman, including Jasmine, who can rattle off the names of the people she remembers who helped ease the pressure of homelessness during her and her mother’s four months in the program.
“I was just nervous,” Jasmine said. “It was hard, but it was still fun at the same time.”
Family Promise is now working with 26 area congregations, which supply hundreds of volunteers. The program has served 17 families so far, and seven of those have moved into permanent housing.
Miller-Coleman said the initiative of the volunteers to make the program work has impressed her.
“I couldn’t handle all their ideas,” she said.
An example is the air mattresses that the program was using for the participants.
“(The volunteers) said, ‘this isn’t good enough for our guests,’” Miller-Coleman said, and the volunteers went out and bought better beds.
The community support for Family Promise has the organization planning to expand so that it can handle a greater portion of the families waiting to get into the program.
“The demand was certainly there,” said Lawrence resident Joe Reitz, who founded the local program. And while Family Promise focuses on homeless families, Reitz hopes a similar model might help the larger homeless population in Lawrence.
Not having to worry
Hutchinson can now focus on the holidays, and not on where she and Jasmine will be living in a couple of weeks.
“I don’t have to worry about being kicked out,” she said, which means she can concentrate on preparing for the holidays in their new home.
“I do everything homemade,” Hutchinson said of the Christmas dinner she intends to cook.
Jasmine, on the other hand, gets to devote energy to making new friends at school, and being able to have them over whenever she wants.
But the best part of their new home?
“Just being able to have my own space,” she said.