After two years of grass-roots fundraising, a new nonprofit agency is now helping families that have fallen into homelessness get back on their feet by using a network of churches and connecting with myriad job-finding services.
Since the official opening in June, 90 families have been referred to Family Promise of East San Fernando Valley. Two families have already graduated from the program and three are currently receiving help, officials said.
"Family Promise is a niche agency for situationally based homeless families," said Jacqueline White, the network's director. "It's for your next-door neighbor who has always paid their rent on time and through some situation, medical, employment or a natural disaster has found themselves without a home."
Part of a larger national organization with more than 150 network offices, Family Promise has several requirements for those who are referred for services, including no active alcohol or drug addictions, no felony convictions or history of domestic violence and no untreated mental illness.
Both single and dual parent families, regardless of sex, are eligible for the 90-day program.
Barbara Howell, executive director of Burbank Temporary Aid Center, said she has already referred two families to Family Promise, including one currently in the program.
"Family Promise has a good reputation nationwide," Howell said. "I think it's going to be a good resource for those that qualify."
Family Promise of East San Fernando Valley works with 23 church congregations to provide food and shelter for the families on a rotating basis.
The families — whose identities are kept secret — are welcome to spend the working hours at the nonprofit's day center where they may shower, do laundry and look for employment. Parents in the program are required to submit 10 to 12 employment leads a week if unemployed.
In the evening, the families travel to whichever congregation is hosting for the week to spend the evening. Each family is guaranteed a private area to sleep in, as well as three meals a day.
The day center, located in Burbank, also provides a mailing address and telephone number for families to conduct business or communicate with their families.
"The line is simply answered 'Hello,'" White said. "A lot of these families are embarrassed or ashamed they have to seek out help, and this helps out their ego."
Harold Bond, a registered nurse and account manager by day and Family Promise coordinator at Emmanuel Church in Burbank at night, says the program has been nothing but a positive experience for his parish.
"Whatever the family's experience is, we get to share in that," Bond said. "Obviously, we're really excited to have an impact in their lives, but we're changed in this process too."
When the families stayed at Emmanuel, the congregation hosted a Salon Night with free haircuts and stylings to prepare for interviews and boost confidence. They even hosted a birthday party for one of the children.
Each congregation is personally trained by White, one of only two paid employees of Family Promise, in sensitivity, the stages of the grief, about the changing homeless population and how to provide a supportive environment.
White hopes to serve and graduate between 15 and 20 families by the end of the fiscal year.
"In these times, housing and employment are the main stressors on families," White said. "Having those stressors at the same time though, we've found that people turn in to their family, and we keep that unit together."
To raise money and increase awareness for the homeless, Family Promise is hosting "Box City" on Saturday in the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church of Burbank. Families, youth groups and service organizations are encouraged to raise funds "for the privilege" of staying overnight in a cardboard box.