By Sabe Fink
“We are beyond thrilled!” said Beth Biggs, executive director of Family Promise of Baldwin County. She could hardly contain her excitement and gratitude upon hearing that the agency had been selected for the $90,000 grant in the Family category of Impact 100’s 2020 grant program. “This will allow us to serve many more households who are experiencing situational homelessness.” Situation homelessness, Biggs explains, is different from chronic homelessness, which may have its roots in mental illness, substance abuse, or other long-term emotional or behavioral issues. Situational homeless occurs as a result of eviction, job loss, marital strife, serious or chronic illness, or natural disaster, as recently seen with the pandemic and with Hurricane Sally. “Family Promise exists to alleviate situational homelessness specifically as it affects children, and the adult members of their households,” says Biggs. “The child or children provide our focus in transitioning a family from one living situation to another. The adult members of the household receive our services, and benefit from them, but it is the child who is our primary concern.”
Family Promise of Baldwin County works miracles, but it doesn’t work alone. The organization relies on its Interfaith Hospitality Network, a group of churches whose members provide services to Family Promise client households. The network includes host congregations, who provide sleeping accommodations on their congregation’s campus, and support congregations, who provide meals during their stay. “At this time, we have fifteen host congregations,” says Biggs. “These churches provide secure sleeping quarters for our clients, with each church hosting a group of families about once a quarter for a week. We also have nine support congregations, whose members provide and deliver meals for the clients, and frequently offer additional support in the form of job leads, housing referrals, and the like. Relationships are formed that extend well beyond the week and have lasting positive impact for both sides.”
The host congregations currently cover most of the southern part of Baldwin County, with about half in the Eastern Shore, Loxley and Robertsdale area, and the rest in the beach communities from Foley south to the Gulf. “We make a real effort to place each household near the schools that the children attend,” Biggs says. “We realize that this is critical for children’s well-being and sense of continuity. School can be the constant in their lives despite the upheaval that homelessness, however temporary, brings them.”
Family Promise provides far more than a place to sleep. The organization provides a comprehensive menu of services including case management, resource assistance, job-search assistance, help securing appropriate housing, budgeting and financial counseling, and transportation assistance, all in a positive, compassionate manner. Families have access to the Family Promise Day Center, located at its Summerdale office, for a safe, friendly place to shower, do laundry, use computers, and let children nap or play or do schoolwork.
Family Promise is a member of VOAD – Volunteers Organized Against Disaster – which is activated upon declaration of a “named disaster,” such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Hurricane Sally. “It’s unusual to have two named disasters back to back,” says Biggs. “But that’s what we’ve been facing here on the Gulf Coast. Baldwin County has hired two case managers through VOAD to help with our Covid-19 response, who have been working out of Prodisee Pantry. In May 2020, Family Promise received a matching grant from Help Us Move In (HUMI), a not-for-profit that assists with initial costs associated with settling a family in appropriate permanent housing. This was truly God-sent. Since Hurricane Sally, we have been interacting with many families displaced when apartment complexes, both public housing and private complexes, had to shut down for major repairs. We have identified nearly sixty families with children and are still working with some of them.”
Family Promise cannot do its work without funding. “Obviously, we depend on the generosity of the community – donations, grants, bequests from individuals and groups. We have one major fundraiser a year, our Chocolate Affair, which until this year was held at the Daphne Civic Center and provided an evening of fabulous food, plus musical entertainment, and a silent auction.” This year, like many other events, the Chocolate Affair on December 10 will be virtual. There will be drawings for gift cards from restaurants who have supported Family Promise in the past, plus many other prizes. “Of course, we have big plans for the generous grant from Impact 100,” says Biggs. “Because of this, we will be able to ease the trauma of homelessness and continue to be the safety net for homeless children and their families in Baldwin County.”