Local News and Stories

Family Promise: A community response to homeless families in Juneau


St. Paul the Apostle parishioner Randy Coleman attended an organization meeting for Family Promise in October 2014, led by then St. Paul’s Pastor, Fr. Pat Travers (now Diocesan Administrator and Pastor of Holy Name Parish in Ketchikan). During the meeting Coleman learned about how many families in Juneau experience homelessness. “In this town or any town (that amount of homeless children) is just wrong,” he stated.

There are about 165 homeless youths in the Juneau School District and the only shelter in Juneau that takes in families, St. Vincent de Paul, typically has a waiting list of about 120 people, most of which are families with children. Family Promise of Juneau is bringing local faith communities together to help homeless families regain their selfsufficiency, through hospitality.

Family Promise of Juneau opened its doors to its first families April 30th after two and a half years of planning. One of the road blocks that the organization ran into in getting off the ground was getting local faith communities on board to help with facilitating families. “When the program was presented, no one said, no I don’t think that’s a good idea…but actually getting that commitment has been a coordinating effort, because all of these faith communities have different (leadership) structures” said Chuck Van Kirk, Family Promise Board Member. It may have taken over two years, but now Family Promise has 10 Juneau faith communities who have offered to use their space for the program and six congregations that have volunteered to support Family Promise with volunteers and resources.

In January, Juneau’s Chapel by the Lake agreed to host Family Promise’s Day Center. “This will be their (families) day time home, for them to pursue finding places to live and find jobs” Van Kirk said. He added that “This was an answer to a prayer, because there aren’t that many facilities around, that have those amenities that we are looking for.” The amenities that are available at Chapel by the Lake include, showers, computers with internet access, laundry facilities and an area for the children to play. The day center is where the 3 to 4 families or 14 people, Family Promise is serving will spend their time between 8am and 5pm.

In the evenings, the guests will be transported to the Host Congregation. “We have a rotating schedule of different faith communities…they will take turns on a weekly basis hosting the families for dinner and through the night” explained Pastor Tari Stage-Harvey, Family Promise Board Member. She added that the program “uses under-used resources to provide hospitality to families.” The host congregation is where the families will spend their time between 6pm and 7am. Volunteers at the congregation will serve meals, interact with and provide other hospitality to the families staying in their facilities. It is the same model used at over 200 Family Promise affiliate programs across the country, including Family Promise Mat-Su in Wasilla, the only other Alaska affiliate.

Stage-Harvey clarified that Family Promise “Is really a hospitality model, not a sheltering model and that is an important distinction.” Family Promise of Juneau will serve up to 14 people at a time, as a transitional place for them to stay, until they are able to find jobs and housing.

Both local Diocese of Juneau parishes, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul the Apostle, have agreed to participate in Family Promise as Host Congregations.

Following the meeting in October 2014 Randy Coleman decided that he wanted to be involved with Family Promise and now serves as the volunteer coordinator for St. Paul’s. “I saw it as a follow up to ACTS, as a service program that our community would benefit from” Coleman said.

St. Paul’s will host families for the first time in July, and will utilize space in St. Peter’s Hall and classrooms for the families to sleep and eat. “They will sleep on cots provided by Family Promise and volunteers will help with the meals” Coleman shared.

The Cathedral is scheduled to host families for the first time in June. The Cathedral will utilize classrooms as space for the families to sleep at night. Theresa Zimmerman, Co-Congregational Coordinator for the Cathedral, said the average parish will need “between 30 and 50 volunteers for the week they are housing the guests.” The volunteers at the parish will help cook meals, interact with the guests and stay the night at the parish hall with the families.

Zimmerman said that those volunteering for Family Promise will need to go through training, “It’s an introduction to what Family Promise is, an orientation to what the families are going through and the effects of homelessness can have on a family.” The volunteer training will take place two weeks before a congregation hosts families.

Though it may take many volunteers for a congregation to host families, each congregation participating in the program will only host once a quarter, or four times a year, so not to burn out a volunteer base or put all the work on to one congregation. Pastor Tari Stage-Harvey asks those in the community “Don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you can offer and we’ll make it work, because if everyone throws in what they can offer, there is more than enough.”

For more information on Family Promise of Juneau visit www.familypromisejuneau.com. If you are interested in volunteering with Family Promise, please contact Theresa Zimmerman at the Cathedral at theresa.zimmerman@gmail.com or Randy Coleman at St. Paul’s at rcoleman.ak@gmail.com.

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