An interfaith solution to homelessness

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - On a Thursday night in early February, there is a flurry of activity in the kitchen at Allisonville Christian Church. Volunteers have prepared all sorts of tasty food. Dinner is almost ready. But church members are not the only ones giving thanks for this meal. Joy Smith, 37, and her two kids are also here. Not just for dinner. They will stay at the church the entire night.

"It's been really rough,” said Smith.

Smith, her 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter are homeless. No job. No permanent place to live.

"I had an apartment and then I hit a bump in the road. I didn't have anywhere to go. I went from shelter to shelter,” said Smith. "Some people might think this is a hassle going church to church, but you're not in a car. You're not under a bridge. You've got food to eat here. Clothes. Can't complain. It could be much worse. If you've never been homeless, you really don't know the feeling someone has. At one point I said, ‘I'll never be homeless.' Never say never because I'm here,” said Smith.

Her family is getting help from Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis. The organization was founded in 1994 and has served more than 800 families experiencing homelessness. Currently, 35 congregations around Indianapolis participate in the organization’s Interfaith Hospitality Network. Eight families are served at a time.

"We're providing a place for them to stay,” program manager Hope Munn explained. “They get home cooked meals. They get their private rooms. Everything they need to make them comfortable and home is provided by at the congregations.”

The participating congregations are rescuing homeless families.

"They can go from sleeping in their car, literally, to the next night, sleeping in a warm, safe place," said Munn.

When the families wake up, their children are in school while the parents either go to work or look for a job.

“If they're needing to find jobs, then they're in the day center,” said Munn. "They can be in our computer lab doing resumes, researching, setting up profiles or career builder so they can quickly get set up for jobs online. If they're working, they're looking for housing, so they're going to different property sites, seeing what's available, reaching out to apartment communities."

On Sunday morning, Allisonville Christian Church uses several rooms for Sunday school. But during the week, there is a homeless family of four living in one of the rooms.

“We try to make it our home away from home,” said Smith.

Smith’s family sleeps on rollaway beds and brush their teeth in the sink. In the morning, Smith’s kids will go to school while she looks for work. Smith has previous experience in retail and she once worked at Universal Orlando.

"During the day, I'm constantly putting my resume online, looking for jobs or I'll go out looking for jobs, see who's hiring,” said Smith.

Smith is getting encouragement from her two children.

“They're keeping their grades up. They're pushing mommy. They're saying, 'You can do this',” said Smith. “We'll be there soon. Finish line is right there. And I'm almost there."

Jada Woodjett, 24, knows the challenges. She and her two children were once homeless. She has a 3-year-old son and a 6-month-old baby.

"I was here four months trying to find a job, find something to do, so I could get my kids into a home and so I could find somewhere to be stable for a while,” said Woodjett.

According to Mike Chapuran with Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis, the family saved every penny, moved out to their own apartment and Woodjett is taking the bus every day to work. Family Promise says 70 percent of the families leave the program successfully and final permanent housing. Most families, according to Family Promise, stay about 60 days to save up the first month’s rent and security deposit.

Now, Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis needs more Indianapolis congregations to participate. During the winter, the organization is only able to help four families because of lack of available space.

“We’re short about five congregations. We'd like to have about five congregations by December of this year. So, we can continue to serve eight families throughout the year."

"There's over 1,500 volunteers with all of these congregations combined,” said Munn. “They prepare meals, they drive families to the congregations, they do activities for the kids, there's volunteers who stay overnight, so they actually sleep at the congregations overnight. It's a lot of work that goes into that," said Munn.

If additional congregations open up their facilities, more homeless families can benefit and be a success story like Jada Woodjett who now has a job, a place to live and a message.

"Just keep going because I did it. And, I made it,” said Woodjett.

Smith is grateful for Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis and the congregations that open their doors.

“They are lifesavers. Miss Hope helped with my resume, finding a job. She's so amazing. They go above and beyond. They've been a life-saver because I could be in my car. So, I thank God for these people,” said Smith. “It's hard but God's got me. That's how I see it.”

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