How Churches Housing the Homeless Can Work in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO -- Hugs come easy now as these little ones play before dinner in the Arden area.

Six weeks ago, there was little physical or emotional space for all that when they were living in their car with their 8-year-old brother and mom.

"You go through that blaming yourself... that you should have tried harder, just like you kind of failed them," their 25-year-old mom said through tears.

She didn't want her face or name used as she fights to climb out of first-time homelessness.

"With finances, the economy, we walk a fine line of homelessness all the time and our wages don't match housing," she said.

A pre-school aide, she and her kids lost their lease after reporting a landlord who hadn't fixed their heat in two years.

Without relatives to lean on, finding any shelter help was a challenge.

"They wouldn't accept me with the amount of kids that I had with the age groups."

The local chapter of the national Family Promise - Interfaith Hospitality Network was able to offer what this mom needed.

She just had to agree to be background-checked, take budgeting and other classes and move week to week to another church hosting families in extra space, like a choir room turned bedroom.

It's just the kind of outreach Sacramento's mayor is looking to create with other churches and community groups as a city program.

"We need to have as many low barrier or minimal barrier shelters as possible," said Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

While the details of how the mayor's plan would be structured are still being worked out, the church model used in Family Promise allows families to stay in tact.

"We've had teenage boys that come that would be separated from their mothers in a shelter program," said Connie Koppes.

She's been the Family Promise coordinator at Saint Anthony's Catholic Church for 11 years.

"Six teenagers who went through the program are now in college on scholarships," she shared.

While a new city-driven, faith-based effort is applauded by those already working with congregations, they say other parts of the social service system also have to be fixed.

Working parents in two local Family Promise families were told just this week by other agencies that they made too much money for permanent housing assistance.

They were advised that they should cut back their hours or go on welfare.

"Are they telling you to fail or setting you back 10 steps? Because I think we need to promote you and help you,": said Kim Harrichan, a case worker with Family Promise.

Despite all of the challenges, there's a 25-year-old mother of three who once again can see success ahead.

"You're not gonna give up. It's not the time to give up," she said.

Family Promise can only handle four families at a time.

You have to have some kind of income to qualify - welfare and SSI do count.

Since starting to serve Sacramento 12 years ago, 223 families have graduated from the program to permanent housing which takes on average about three and a half months.

The network has helped give food and shelter to 16 people who've now graduated from college, 16 others who've obtained their GEDs and eight families who've purchased their own homes.

If you're seeking help or interested in learning more about Family Promise Sacramento just call (916) 443-3107.