14 Churches Help Homeless One East Penn Family at a Time
A project to help homeless families in the East Penn School District is starting small with one apartment in Emmaus and a wealth of potential.
A new project to help the homeless is starting one family at a time in the East Penn School District.
Fourteen churches that make up Emmaus Ecumenical Ministries are chipping in to rent a three-bedroom apartment as transitional housing where a local family can stay until it gets back on its feet.
"It isn't about one particular church. It's about people getting together to address a need in the community," said Linda Wisser, director of church growth and development of Emmaus Moravian Church.
The first family to benefit—a couple and their elementary school-age son—moved into the apartment in December. They're already working on their exit plan now that the adults have secured part-time work and are developing a family financial plan thanks to weekly coaching by volunteers.
The Ecumenical Ministries group hopes to be able to help three families per year—but the program has lots of potential to grow.
"Great things often start really small," said Rev. Jim Powell of West Valley Presbyterian Church.
Retired East Penn home and school visitor (social worker) Joelle Hower is helping organize the program and coach the family.
"This is an experiment," she said. "We don't know exactly where it's going to lead us. We'll see where it goes from here."
Local clergy and community members spent about a year talking and planning before launching the effort. Organizers were inspired to act based on reports of homeless children—about 20 to 25 in East Penn at any given time—from Hower.
Churches can't afford to pay hotel lodging for weeks at a time so organizers got the idea of working with a local landlord. The Ecumenical Ministries group is technically the lessee and takes responsibility for the tenants, which the group screens with help from Hower and East Penn's new home and school visitor, Karla Matamoros.
Volunteers meet with the family weekly to help them develop life skills such as budgeting, parenting, resume writing and finding a job.
"We really want to teach people to fish, not keep giving them fish," said Hower.
The first family being helped fell into crisis after the hard-working dad lost a job he had for 15 years when his employer went out of business.
"That was the beginning of this family being completely displaced," said Powell.
The father's track record of steady employment made this family a good fit to launch the program.
"We consider them to be a great pilot family," Powell said.
Living in a local apartment makes it possible for their son to walk to school and saves money for the school district, which would have to bus the student if the family found temporary digs with friends miles away.
"It can be really expensive for the school district to handle a homeless family," Powell said.
Next, Ecumenical Ministries hopes to set up a non-profit entity so that donations for the homeless project will be tax deductible. Organizers also hope to get more volunteers involved.
"I can see us setting up teams of four to six community members (to work with a family) who are caring and concerned," Powell said.
Hower added, "We need expertise in a lot of different areas."
Donations, which are not yet tax deductible, can be made to Emmaus Ecumenical Ministries, c/o Bethel Bible Fellowship Church, 418 Elm St., Emmaus, Pa. 18049.
To learn more about the homeless project or volunteer, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.