- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - More than 2.5 million American children and their parents are expected to experience homelessness in 2016.

Should that happen, local minister Vince Endris is making it his mission to ensure those families won’t be separated.

Endris, a part-time pastor at First Christian Disciples of Christ and a local middle school science teacher, is working to organize a Family Promise network in Calcasieu Parish.

“It’s something that is very needed in the parish,” he said. “We’re basically just trying to get the word out.”

Celebrating 27 years, Family Promise is a national movement that partners volunteers with local community affiliates to address family homelessness in their areas. The organization has more than 190 affiliates nationwide.

“According to the Calcasieu School Board, we have over 2,000 homeless children in the parish but we don’t have any shelters that cater to families,” Endris said.

Calcasieu has shelters open to men only and others for women and children, but not a place for the family unit to stay together.

“Calcasieu has two for men, two for women and two for troubled youth, but nothing for families,” he said. “In most cases the family doesn’t want to (split up) so they crash on someone’s couch and remain homeless.”

Endris said the Family Promise mission is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence.

“It’s more of a program than it is a shelter,” he said.

Volunteers in the program provide food, shelter and support services for homeless families, along with advice and advocacy, he said.

Endris said the push for a Family Promise network in Calcasieu started with a group of members from St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist Church and is slowly growing to encompass volunteers from other area churches.

“It’s nondenominational, so it’s not related to one church,” he said.

Endris said the team has already turned in the paperwork to form the nonprofit organization and is ready to get started.

What they need now is 13 churches to join the movement.

“Thirteen easily goes into 52 and so we’re going to ask the churches for four weeks out of the year to let the families sleep at their church,” he said. “Basically, we use existing resources to help families, and what I mean by that is that we use people, human power, food and space from churches,” he said.

He said if the parents are looking for jobs while part of the Family Promise network, they can use the church’s address as their own for job applications.

“It’s also a place where they can take showers, they can wash their clothes and we’ll also have a social worker there that will help them with things like money-management classes or just help them find a job,” he said.

He said the organization would have transportation to get the school-age children to class while their parents search for a job or take the money-management courses.

The families would be brought back to the church each night at 5:30 p.m. He said a team of volunteers would move the bunk beds and furniture from one church to the next each month.

“It’s a very successful program,” he said. “Nationwide, there is over a 75 percent success rate with the program, which means people who enter the program will find housing. And the national average is that that will happen within the first 63 days.

“Now that is just the average. There may be places where it takes 100 days or places where it just takes one week,” he said. “But overall, it is very successful.”

Endris said two churches have already joined the network - St. Luke-Simpson and Lakewood Bible Fellowship.

Four other churches have told him “they’re very interested, their pastors are interested, they just haven’t gone through all the processes yet. Hopefully in a month or two we’ll be able to say we have six churches participating.”

He said the group plans on housing either 14 people or three to four families at a time.

“We’ll do a pretty exhaustive screening process,” he said. “First, we only deal with families with children and, second, we are not equipped to handle mental illness or drug addiction. We do work closely with other groups so we can recommend who can and cannot help in those cases so if we do get someone with mental illness or drug addiction we can recommend them somewhere else.”

He said program participants would not be required to attend any church services or Bible studies, but they would have to agree to work the program and be where they are supposed to be at certain times of the day.

They would also have to agree to let the program help them with initial spending decisions.

“Obviously we can’t take any money; we’re a nonprofit. But what we do is we’ll just let them know, ‘Now is a good time to get an apartment or now is not a good time to get an apartment; you need to save a little more before you do that. You probably don’t need to go buy a new pair of shoes right now.’ “

He said the only two people on staff would be a bus driver and a social worker. All others would be volunteers.

He said the national organization has told him it takes about $100,000 a year to run the program. Because it is a nonprofit, Endris said the funding will primarily come through grants and donations.

“Because we’re using things that are already there, it costs us about $3,000 a person per year, and that’s not just to help them once but that’s to help them for their lifetime,” he said.

“They’re now in sustainable housing, and they can now help themselves.”

He said the goal is to help every family have a home, a livelihood and the chance to build a better future.

“Jesus commanded us to go and love one another, and he commanded us to feed the poor and take care of the oppressed,” he said.


Information from: American Press, https://www.americanpress.com

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