By: Dominique Johnson
For most families the loss of a job, an illness or other unexpected event could result in the loss of their home, leaving a family to rely on friends or family members for temporary housing or living out of their cars. For the last year Family Promise of Juneau has worked with homeless families to give them stability as they work to find jobs and housing.
According to the Juneau School District, there are approximately 170 homeless students in Juneau and the only shelter in Juneau for families, St. Vincent de Paul, typically has a waiting list of 120 people.
Family Promise isn’t a shelter, but gives families a safe place to stay using underutilized space in 15 faith congregations in Juneau to house families overnight. During the day the families spend their time at the Family Promise Day Center located at Chapel by the Lake. At the Day Center the adults in the family receive guidance with their job search, budgeting, and finding a place to live.
Since opening their doors in April of 2017, six families have graduated from the program. Shannon Fisher, Executive Director of Family Promise Juneau, shared, “Every family that has come through the program has graduated into sustainable housing.”
At the Day Center “The family sets up their own plan, they lead that, and we are here to help fill in the gaps, ask clarifying questions and help break it down step by step, so they can get the confidence that they can do this,” Fisher said.
Fisher, who has worked for Family Promise in Kansas as well as Wasilla, shared that while some of the circumstances that lead to homelessness are the same across the country, each town has their unique problems. In her experience working with families in Juneau the biggest issue has been affordable housing, “You aren’t able to find that (affordable housing), as you lose housing each time you lose jobs, you lose child care, your kids are going from school to school. But once you find housing that is sustainable you can build those things back up again.”
An integral piece to the Family Promise program are the host congregations. In Juneau there are 15 faith congregations that rotate weekly to limit volunteer burnout and each congregation hosts once a quarter. Both Catholic parishes, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Paul the Apostle, participate in Family Promise of Juneau.
With four weeks of hosting under their belt, Therese Zimmerman, the Co-Coordinator at the Cathedral, said after hosting multiple times with different families they’ve learned to be prepared for anything, “You just prepare for them to come and we are happy to serve.”
It takes multiple volunteers from each congregation to make a week of hosting run smoothly. Volunteers are needed to cook dinner and breakfast each day, to stay overnight in the building with the families, and to interact with the parents and children in the evening.
After volunteering to serve families through the program Randy Coleman, the Family Promise Coordinator at St. Paul’s in the valley said, “It changes your image of what it means to be homeless.” He remembered one family they hosted that shared with him that their family of five had been living out of a car and in a tent before they entered the Family Promise program. Now, that family has graduated from Family Promise.
Knowing that the families work hard to find jobs and setting their goals to graduate, Zimmerman said that she is confident that families that graduate make a positive impact on the community, “They are going to do what they have to do for the best of their family, and I think just adding one person like that is a big value to the community.”
In their first year Family Promise has seen support from the community with two successful halibut fundraising dinners hosted at St. Ann’s Hall and volunteer support at the hosting congregations. The program has served eight families, with 1,832 bed nights and 5,496 meals provided by donations and served by volunteers.
As both parishes in Juneau prepare for their next hosting duties they would like to remind parishioners that there is always a need for more volunteers to help cook, donate meals, to stay overnight and to interact with the families. St. Paul’s will host again April 22nd-29th and the Cathedral parish will host April 29th- May 6th.

If you are interested in volunteering you can contact Randy Coleman at rcoleman.ak@gmail.com and you can contact Theresa Zimmerman at theresa.zimmerman@gmail.com for more information.