Catholic parishes in Wayne County aid homeless families
This is a phrase no one wants to hear, especially around the holidays, but there have been at least 600 homeless preschool and school-age children in Wayne County every year since the 2014-15 school year, according to data collected by the county’s school districts.
“As you go east in Wayne County things get a little tougher economically. You’ve got some pretty small towns and villages to begin with, and the work opportunities and things like that aren’t quite as abundant as they are towards the Monroe County line,” explained Stan Weller, a member of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Ontario, Sodus and Sodus Point.
Weller also sits on the board of trustees of Family Promise of Wayne County, a new organization dedicated to helping homeless families become sustainably independent. The organization seeks to accomplish this goal by providing safe housing, nutritious meals and fellowship to homeless families in the short term while they work to find long-term, stable housing and rectify the situations that led to their homelessness.
The short-term housing is provided by nine local groups — most of them church congregations — who take turns hosting the homeless families in their facilities for a week at a time. Two Catholic parishes — St. Maximilian Kolbe as well as St. Joseph the Worker in Lyons, Clyde and Savannah — have agreed to be host congregations, and the organization is still seeking three more host congregations, noted Graig Roberts, executive director of Family Promise of Wayne County.
Homeless families in the program spend the evening and overnight hours at host congregations’ facilities, where they sleep on inflatable beds and enjoy warm food provided by volunteers from the host congregations or other support congregations or organizations, Weller explained. Catholic Charities of Wayne County, St. Michael Parish in Newark and Blessed Trinity Parish in Wolcott, Red Creek and Fair Haven are among the more than three dozen entities that have agreed to be support organizations thus far.
“To me it’s doing Christ’s mission, doing what is proclaimed in the Bible. You clothe the naked, you feed the hungry, you shelter the homeless,” Weller said.
During the evening hours volunteers help the families’ children with their homework, socialize with the families or give them some quiet time alone if that’s what the families want, Weller said. Two volunteers remain at the facility overnight to ensure everyone’s safety and security, he added.
The families leave their overnight lodgings by 6:30 or 7 each morning and head to the Family Promise of Wayne County Day Center, which is located in the manse of the First Presbyterian Church of Lyons. Families can shower and do their laundry at the day center, and school-age children are picked up from the facility, bused to their home schools and transported back to the day center each afternoon.
“The day center is a place the families can go to and work with the executive director to try to find sustainable, affordable and permanent housing,” Weller said. “That’s the main thrust of this, is to try to find something they can afford, something they can call their place permanently.”
The adults in the family can conduct online job searches from the day center if necessary, although quite often they already are employed, Roberts said. Many people are surprised to learn that homeless people often actually have jobs, yet still struggle to afford stable housing, he added.
“I think when your average person thinks of homelessness, they think of the person on the corner of the street or the person that’s dealing with addiction or the person that’s dealing with serious mental-health issues, or, quite honestly, they think of families not working hard or being lazy,” he said.
Families who want to enter the Family Promise program must undergo thorough background checks and meet a very specific set of criteria, Roberts said.
“We want to make sure that the families that are coming in have the potential to have that sustained independence, so when they leave the program, six months down the line they don’t need the program again,” he remarked.
The program is not open people who are struggling with substance-abuse or mental-health issues, not because they are undeserving of help, but simply because the volunteers who operate the program are not properly trained or equipped to deal with these issues, Roberts explained. If families do not meet the program’s criteria, he refers them to other programs in the county that will be able to help them.