SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 11, 2013

Day center for homeless families to open

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — A network of North Shore churches is planning to open a day center for homeless families on Rantoul Street.

Family Promise North Shore Boston has leased space at 332 Rantoul St. and hired a social worker to staff it.

The organization is planning to provide overnight lodging for up to four homeless families at its churches starting in May and will offer the Beverly site as a “home base” for the families during the day.

Families will be able to shower and care for preschool children at the location and use it as a base for job hunting and connecting with government services, the organization said.

“The day center is where they go every single day,” said Elise Sinagra, the program director for Family Promise North Shore Boston. “It’s important for the children and parents to know they have that stability every single day.”

Family Promise North Shore Boston is a network of nearly 40 congregations that are partnering to help homeless families. Starting in May, at least 13 of the congregations will take turns hosting families overnight in their churches for a week at a time, with a limit of four families or 14 people.

Volunteers will set up bunks and provide meals for the overnight stays, and youth groups will play with children and help them with their homework. In the morning, the families will be transported by the organization to the day center on Rantoul Street, where children will be picked up by their home district to go to school.

“The collateral damage that goes with family homelessness is that kids miss out on school,” said the Rev. Michael Duda of First Church in Wenham, one of the participating churches. “That to me is probably the greatest tragedy of family homelessness, because once a kid falls behind in school, they can never catch up. This way, they’ll go to school every day.”

The congregations have been working for three years to establish a local chapter of Family Promise, an organization that started in New Jersey in 1986 and now has affiliates in 41 states.

Duda said the model is a creative way to address the growing problem of homeless families, who are not allowed in adult-only shelters. The state announced in January that it plans to phase out the practice of housing homeless families in motels.

“There’s now over 240 families in motel rooms in Danvers on Route 1,” Duda said. “It’s a crisis, and people aren’t aware of it. We don’t see the families out on the street, but many times, that’s where they are.”

Duda said congregations are allowed to host families overnight for up to two weeks. Longer stays are allowed only at licensed shelters. Host churches have to meet requirements regarding fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and obtain permits allowing temporary occupancy.

Duda said 13 congregations have agreed to host families four times per year for a week at a time, giving the organization coverage for an entire year. As many as 650 volunteers from all of the congregations will be trained to help with the program, Sinagra said.

Sinagra will be assisted by a part-time worker to help families connect with local human services agencies.

“With the economic downtown, there are folks who are finding they need help for the first time in their life, and they don’t know where to turn,” she said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.