Michael and Stephanie Sparks* moved to North Carolina from Missouri a little over four years ago. In December 2014, their landlord told them they needed to pay the taxes on the home they were in—almost $3,000. They couldn’t do it, so the landlord evicted them and the family found themselves homeless. They stayed in a hotel for two weeks and Michael pawned a lot of the family’s items so they could afford the high cost of staying in the hotel. After two weeks, the family was referred to Cooperative Christian Ministry (CCM).
When Stephanie called CCM’s Mothers and Children Housing Ministry program, she learned that the program takes homeless mothers and their children, but not entire families. She was referred to My Father’s House, another in CCM’s Shelter and Housing family of programs. In March 2015, the family moved into My Father’s House and began the process of regaining their stability.
My Father’s House, a 2015 Thank Offering recipient, represents a unique family shelter partnership between Cooperative Christian Ministry (CCM) and local churches. The program provides emergency and transitional shelter for homeless families with children for up to 180 days, as the families work to regain stability. The ministry creates an environment in which each family makes independent decisions, within their action plan, allowing them to develop educational, physical and spiritual resources. In addition, the program helps families begin the process of establishing financial stability, which will allow them to move to a more independent level of housing. There is no charge for families staying at My Father’s House. The ministry provides supervised housing and meals, guided development of an action plan with case managers, referral resources and a computer lab for students to use to complete homework and parents to use to seek employment. Each Monday and Thursday night, through a partnership with the local school system, an evening tutoring program is offered for children in the program and the local community. Each family in the program shares a room with two sets of bunk beds (and roll cots if needed), cabinets for clothing and personal items, and a hanging shelf for hanging clothes.
Families who are unsheltered or have been split up in the local night shelter benefit from participation in this shelter program. Emphasis is given to families in this program, with the goal of keeping homeless families together and helping them move beyond homelessness through CCM’s continuum of shelter and housing programs. In fiscal year 2013–2014 (the most recently completed FY), My Father’s House served 14 families. Of those, 11 left the program successfully to transitional or permanent housing, or were still participating efficaciously in the program, and three left the program before achieving stable housing. Priorities of the program include safety, responsibility and accountability in the development and implementation of a plan to regain family independence. Aftercare support to former guests includes continued advocacy, education, referrals and other interventions.
Through its partnership with Presbyterian Women and the Thank Offering grant, CCM will double the capacity of its family housing program, allowing CCM to serve eight families at a time, once space conversion is complete. The conversion will take place in the sanctuary of Showers of Blessings Church, the current location of My Father’s House, where family rooms are currently housed in the education hall. Once complete, an eight-room, dormitory-like facility will host families. There will be laundry facilities and a kitchenette. At the back, showers and bathrooms will be available for the families. Off to the side of the sanctuary, an apartment will be available for a house manager to live, providing supervision and safety.
CCM’s mission is to provide immediate assistance to members of the community who are experiencing crisis in the areas of food, shelter or finances, while engaging them in a series of actions that will empower them to move beyond crisis. In 2014, CCM provided more than 1 million pounds of food to more than 20,000 households containing more than 60,000 individuals; provided financial assistance in the areas of rent/mortgage, utilities and medications to 796 households; sheltered 24 households containing 75 individuals through Project Independence; sheltered 9 households containing 32 individuals through the Mothers and Children Housing Ministry; and sheltered 12 households containing 39 individuals through My Father’s House. Clients come to CCM through word-of-mouth as walk-ins for food assistance and financial assistance. In the Shelter and Housing programs, clients are referred by community partners (the school systems, Community Link, Salvation Army, etc.). Clients in the Shelter and Housing programs also come from other programs within the CCM continuum of care.
“It’s such a relief,” Michael said, shortly after he and his family moved in to My Father’s House. “I think it’s harder on me than it is on [my family] being in this situation,” he added. “You just feel like (as a husband and father) you lost.” His goal for his family was to live in the program for as short an amount of time as possible “so another family can come in that needs it more.” For Stephanie, nothing could replace the feeling of security she had knowing that her family was safely sheltered at My Father’s House. “It’s priceless,” she said. And, she added, this step toward stability and self-sufficiency would create “a snowball effect in the right direction.”
*Last name changed to protect the privacy of the family
To learn more about the Thank Offering of Presbyterian Women, visit PW’s Thank Offering web page.