A family of four entered a local shelter with tattered clothes and tired eyes, carrying three old garbage bags holding their only belongings. A wave of relief washed over the family as they cautiously walked into the shelter, greeted by barking dogs, a clean playground and an onslaught of accommodating volunteers.

Homeless shelters across the Valley offer assistance to those in need in the form of food, a safe place to sleep and even programs to help individuals get back on their feet. Tempe is one of the many large cities across the nation that works to combat the growing homelessness community.

“We have a similar homeless population compared to other big cities,” said Theresa James, city of Tempe homeless coordinator.

Common faces found on streets are single men, teens escaping violence or addiction at home and families with nowhere else to go, she added.

Family homelessness makes up 40 percent of homelessness in the greater Phoenix area, said Morgan Taylor, development director of Family Promise, an organization that aims to reduce homelessness in the Valley by helping families attain self-sufficiency. The rate of families falling into homelessness is growing faster than the homelessness rates of individuals and teens.

Taylor said the public is less likely to see homeless families begging on the street or asking for assistance because their “biggest desire is to be invisible.” Families “just want to find a way to get back on their feet.” Tempe funds and runs a number of homeless assistance programs, including the Tempe Community Action Agency and Save the Family. Both organizations work to transition families back into the workforce.

Nonprofit shelters, like Family Promise, offer an “emergency crisis program” for homeless families. The organization has a 60-day program to help families find new work and locate affordable housing through classes, counseling and assistance by a social worker.

The day shelter offers amenities for family and children, including counseling, transportation to school and a place to clean their clothes. Residents are then taken to churches across the Valley for meals and a place to sleep in the evening.

One of Family Promise’s main goals is to provide a safe environment for its residents, Taylor said.

The organization is also one of the only shelters in the state that allow families to keep their animals in the facility, Taylor said. Some families would turn down housing from Valley shelters before letting go of their pet, she added.

“These are people who have lost everything and they just don’t want to give up that last family member,” Taylor said. “It’s just so important for everyone’s emotional well-being.”

Family Promise aims to raise awareness about family homelessness in the greater Phoenix area through its fourth annual event Cardboard City. On Oct. 18, participants will spend the night in Scottsdale Stadium in a cardboard box of their own design.

Participants will also help create 2,000 hygiene kits, equipped with personal items like toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.

“It’s a hands-on way to give back,” Taylor said. “I think it’ll be an amazing site to see.”

Fighting homelessness has become a community effort for organizations like Family Promise, which relies on community members for donations, funding and assistance running the shelter.

• Becca Smouse, a sophomore at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for GetOut. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or tribintern@evtrib.com.

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