In the time of the novel coronavirus, crisis knows no bounds and in the case of family homelessness the realities have become harsher than years before in the Valley of the Sun, outreach officials say.
“COVID has forced families to shelter in place 24/7 at Family Promise ‘Day’ Centers since March 13 with host volunteers from one of 50 congregations dropping off meals and groceries daily,” said Lisa Randall, who serves as community relations manager at Family Promise. “A joint effort with the Family Promise social work team quickly puts parents back on the path toward employment, independent housing and self-sufficiency.”
The mission of Family Promise, which is based in south Scottsdale, is to provide emergency shelter and social services to help families move toward independent housing and self-sufficiency.
On any given night in Maricopa County more than 5,000 people --- men, women and children --- have no place to call home, according to the Point in Time Homeless Count, which is conducted by the Maricopa Association of Governments each January. The survey is an annual street and shelter count to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness during a given point in time.
That’s where Family Promise comes into the picture.
“Family Promise of Greater Phoenix uniquely addresses the Valley’s challenge of family homelessness, including --- though not exclusively --- families with pets,” Ms. Randall explains. “It uses a community-based model that allows volunteers of all ages to feed, shelter and engage these families through simple hospitality. That normally happens within a host congregational network.”
Founded in 1998, Family Promise has been providing shelter services for 22 years. They served 37 families in 2000, and 106 families in 2015. Family Promise moved to its current south Scottsdale location nine years ago.
Ms. Randall points out expansions have continued over the last six years --- in hindsight a vital time for expansion of respite services for families in need.
“Family Promise expanded to Glendale in 2019 and a Fiesta Bowl Charities Field Goal Grant ensured the children and families there had adequate space to relax outdoors,” she said of recent expansion into the west Valley. “Funds supported construction of a shade canopy and a basketball court. Staff and families at its Scottsdale Family Day Center have seen how healing a similar court is for older kids, teenagers and adults in the Emergency Shelter Program.”
As the global pandemic of 2020 unfolds families on the brink of crisis, have crossed that threshold, numbers show and experts agree. Family Promise officials, in tune with other 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations are seeing more demand than ever coupled with dwindling supplies.
“Families who enter the 60-day emergency shelter program have hit rock bottom,” Ms. Randall said. “This is often their first time homeless. The parents are resilient and hardworking. They tend to earn 0-30% of the area median income. Only some have formal higher education. Others have never been the head of a household and now have a family to support.”
In all, Ms. Randall reports, Family Promise has rescued 1,300 families since 2000 and a record 470 adults and children in 2019, surpassing the previous high of 397 in 2017.
“Single parents head 76% of the families; children account for at least 60% of those served,” Ms. Randall said of the data points. “Everyone thrives when given the love and resources to heal and start anew. Valley shelters serve about 2,500 homeless families per year and there is a constant waiting list.”
“We are all in this together” is more than a mantra at Family Promise; Ms. Randall says, it’s a mindset.
“Staff and volunteers provide the time, love and support needed for parents and guardians to return to employment and a home of their own,” she said. “Family Promise rescues families who have been living in a hotel, their car or ‘doubled up’ with friends or family. They come from across the Valley. Others move in from elsewhere and job/housing prospects go awry. Family break up, job loss and foreclosure/eviction are the main reasons these families become homeless.”
--- Lisa Randall
The number of families in need is staggering, Ms. Randall explains.
“Some 204,000-335,000 Arizona households are at-risk of eviction and homelessness. That is up to 39% of households,” she said of the figures. “Maricopa County, by almost 1,000, has the nation’s highest number of eviction filings, nearly 10,900 --- tallied since March 15. Nationwide, eviction judgments often involve less than $600 in rental debt.”
Family homelessness oftentimes goes unnoticed by greater society, Ms. Randall contends.
“There are families in need of help. Family homelessness is largely a hidden issue,” she said. “Family Promise offers an emergency shelter program, graduate support and new eviction prevention outreach for those on the verge of homelessness.”
Everyday life is oftentimes a struggle for low-income families.
“While the Valley of the Sun does have an array of resources to help them navigate life’s road bumps, the overall projection isn’t good,” Ms. Randall said. “The National Low Income Housing Coalition ranked the Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale area among the nation’s most severe metro areas for affordable and available renter homes.”
What that breaks down to, in the Phoenix-Scottsdale-Mesa corridor, is 18 affordable rental homes per 100 available rentals, Ms. Randall says.
But Family Promise is not in the fight alone as Fiesta Bowl Charities offered the nonprofit a $25,000 grant making the Safe Playground Project a reality.
“The previous playground came to Family Promise used and was set within wood chips. The wooden frame began to crack,” Ms. Randall said. “The current playground --- which still looks brand new three years later --- has a metal frame protected under a shade canopy and sits on a soft, FlexGround surface. It is the first visual a homeless family sees when they enter the Family Promise gate and quickly becomes the first sign of happiness and resiliency in a family’s journey out of homelessness.”
Kristina Chumpol, Fiesta Bowl Charities community outreach director, reaffirms the collegiate sports organization’s efforts to good in the communities it calls home.
“Fiesta Bowl Charities is committed to the residents of Arizona through serving communities in three important areas: youth, sports, and education,” she said. “Family Promise is a great fit as it offers a wonderful safety net for children and families who are in vulnerable places. Not only do they focus on basic needs for kids, but they offer a safe, encouraging and constructive environment for families.”
--- Kristina Chumpol
The bottom line, Ms. Randall says, is Fiesta Bowl Charities last year alone helped 800 children cope with the stress of being, for a time, in need.
“Fiesta Bowl Charities gave about 800 children and counting a safe place to play and feel normal while mom and dad worked hard to rebuild their lives,” she said pointing out some of the most recent projects made possible through Fiesta Bowl Charities haven’t yet had to have their time in the limelight.
“The court and canopy are part of a larger project that is still underway and we look forward to a future ribbon-cutting upon completion,” she said.
Ms. Chumpol says Fiesta Bowl Charities is always looking for new and meaningful ways to help local families in need.
“Fiesta Bowl Charities works in many creative ways to address basic needs of families, but none more so than making it a point of emphasis to have great relationships with partners like Family Promise who are on the ‘front lines’ of service,” she said. “We strive to know their needs and their challenges so we can explore innovative ways of addressing those, whether it be funding or opportunities to match partners with other organizations for expanded resources.”
Go to familypromise.org.