When a church is your home - Catholic Courier

When a church is your home

FAIRPORT — As dinner was being prepared, the children and adults watched TV, played games or just talked about their day. In all, it represented a typical moment in the lives of many families.

Yet these families were not in a typical situation — their TV room was located in Church of the Assumption, and their days were devoted to finding somewhere else to live.

One of the homeless families staying at the church was headed by Tracy Kelly, a 36-year-old father of two sons, Tyshon, 5, and Trayvon, 8. Kelly said he was unemployed but seeking work, and that he hoped to become a welder. He said he had been living in a one-bedroom apartment while supporting himself with odd jobs, but when he recently gained custody of the boys, he couldn’t house them in his old place. He said he is looking for an apartment large enough to accommodate him and his sons.

“I’m still jumping through hoops, but whatever it takes to get sufficient housing,” Kelly said of his current struggles.

The Kellys were one of five homeless families who recently found shelter in the church basement at Assumption Dec. 26 to Jan. 2, according to Denise Mack, pastoral associate. The arrangements were made possible by Assumption’s participation in the Rochester Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, or RAIHN. Kelly said he was referred to the program by the Monroe County Department of Social Services.

The Rochester Area Interfaith Hospitality Network — an affiliate of Family Promise of Summit, N.J. — began operating last April. According to information on its Web site, www.nihn.org, Family Promise has programs in dozens of U.S. communities where congregations of various faiths jointly commit to helping homeless families become independent.

Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim congregations and/or individual volunteers participate in the Monroe County network, which assists homeless families by providing food, shelter, and other services as they search for housing and jobs. Host congregations, like Assumption, house families for one week at a time, providing them meals and sleeping accommodations. Meanwhile, supporting organizations provide volunteers to the host congregations. Three other Catholic parishes — St. Mary’s, Rochester; St. Catherine of Siena, Mendon; and St. Louis, Pittsford — serve as RAIHN support congregations, according to Erica Vera, RAIHN’s director.

During the day, the homeless families go to a day center — in Rochester, a house located next to Third Presbyterian Church on Meigs Street — from which the children leave for school and where the parents work with Vera to find housing and employment.

In its first year of operation, Vera said, RAIHN sheltered 36 families consisting of 100 individuals, 56 of them children. RAIHN helped 21 of 36 families find permanent housing, Vera added, noting that the remaining families either homes with relatives or dropped out of the program for various reasons.

As of Jan. 10, Kelly and his boys were less than a week away from moving into their own apartment, she said.

Assumption has agreed to host homeless families for one week every 13 weeks, Mack said, and the latest group of families was the third such group the parish has hosted. Hosting homeless families helps them through difficult times, added Sue Owens, RAIHN coordinator for Assumption. Owens noted that homeless shelters tend to serve single adults, not families, so the host congregations provide a vital service.

Mack added that parishioners who volunteer for the program benefit by seeing the human face of homelessness.

“What it does for the parish is help us realize we’re all part of the same family,” she said.

That family includes Regina Johnson, 35, and her two sons, Tyrell Wright, 13, and William Johnson, 14. Like the Kellys, Johnson’s family found a place of their own by the end of January, but had needed temporary shelter this December after a roommate situation forced them out of their last apartment. Johnson said she has been employed for several years, but wanted to upgrade her computer technology skills in the future so she could increase her earning potential.

“It’s real hard to find an apartment in my price range,” she said, adding that she had to rely on public transportation to get around.

Kelly and Johnson both expressed gratitude for the shelter RAIHN provided. Owens, meanwhile, said she admired the resilience of the families, who had to keep moving from one religious facility to the next as they rebuilt their lives.

“Our goal is just to make our guests feel at home,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE — For information on the Rochester Interfaith Hospitality Network, call 585-506-9050, e-mail info@raihn.org or visit www.raihn.org.

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