The Ahwatukee Foothills faith-based community is making a big impact on homeless families in Arizona.
The Homeless Advocacy Team, brought together by Connecting to Serve, has been searching for months to find a way to help the homeless population in Ahwatukee. After a few meetings the group, which mostly consists of pastors and leaders from different churches across Ahwatukee, found that the homeless population in Ahwatukee was not the same as the population in Tempe or Phoenix. Through discussions with Phoenix police and the Kyrene Resource Center, the group found that in Ahwatukee it was families who had the most need.
From there, it was all about meeting with different organizations and finding a group that was helping the homeless in a way that could help Ahwatukee. Once they came across Family Promise they knew it was a perfect fit.
"There were already a couple congregations in the Ahwatukee Foothills area that were already participating in the program so it just became obvious that it was probably going to work for the rest of our congregations," said Pat Impiccini, leader of the Homeless Advocacy Group.
The two congregations that were already participating in Family Promise, Mountain View Lutheran and Desert Foothills United Methodist, gave positive testimonies about their experiences and other church groups began to build some interest. Now, Mountain Park Community Church has joined the program and two or three others are also working to get approval to join the program. Ted Taylor, executive director of Family Promise, says it's the biggest response he has ever seen from one community.
"I've never seen a community come together like Ahwatukee has to serve families in need," Taylor said. "This is crazy. When this started I never dreamed that we would now have five congregations in Ahwatukee. There's no community in the Valley anywhere close to that. The help is disproportionately amazing for a community like Ahwatukee."
Family Promise takes about four families into its program at once. They carefully screen them to make sure the families are truly motivated to find a home and get back on their feet. Once the families are in the program they spend their days at a day center, where Family Promise staff help the adults with job or apartment searches, and they spend their nights at churches across the Valley.
The churches who sign up to be part of the program host the group of four families for an entire week. Buses drop the families off at the church in the evening where volunteers from the congregation are asked to supply dinner and a simple activity for the night. The families sleep on cots provided by Family Promise and the congregation is asked to supply one or two chaperones overnight.
Early in the morning the families eat a cold breakfast and then get on buses to go back to the day center where they get ready for job hunting or school. At night the families are dropped back off at the church and the process continues for seven days until they are transferred to a different church.
In the past there has only been one group of four families rotating to different churches but because of Ahwatukee's kindness Family Promise has welcomed more families into the program and is preparing to start a second rotation. That means an additional 36 to 45 families a year will be helped through Family Promise.
"What this basically means is that Ahwatukee has taken a step to help homeless families, which no other community has taken this big of a step," Taylor said. "We have more congregations in Ahwatukee helping and contemplating helping Family Promise than in any other community in the Valley... It really is a reflection of compassion, organization and communication between the faith networks. Short of telling you it was miraculous, I believe it has been amazing what Ahwatukee has done as a faith community to help out families."
Taylor said Family Promise had transitional housing on its campus in Scottsdale. In order to add another rotation to its program (or another group of four families) they have done some remodeling of their transitional housing and turned it into a second day center.
Though the outcome has been amazing it's not over. Family Promise has decided to move forward with forming a second rotation, but still need three more churches to join the program to officially make it happen.
They try to have eight churches involved in a rotation so that churches already in the program won't get "burnt out."
Pastor Glenn Zorb of Mountain View Lutheran Church said he would definitely encourage other churches to get involved in the program.
"The Christ you will not share, you cannot keep," Zorb said. "Faith is not a private possession we sit with and don't live out. It either grows or it dies... The only way for our faith to breathe and live is to welcome the stranger, do what you can. We are not naïve. We cannot solve the entire homeless problem with simply Family Promise. We know that. But we can give a few more families a leg up."
Zorb said years ago when his church first got involved with Family Promise they heard some concerns from the neighborhood about bringing the homeless in. Zorb said in all the years they've been doing this they have not had any incidents, and he believes the neighborhood may be safer when Family Promise is around because someone is at the church all night.
"You discover they're just like you and me," Zorb said. "You could not tell the difference between one of the people in the shelter program and anyone else you and I run into at the mall, the grocery store, churches or schools. They don't look different, they don't act different, they don't have some huge problem that stigmatizes them from life or the community. They're just people that in these economic times can't make it, by no fault of their own. They're very human, they're trying very hard and they've fallen on times that, frankly, could happen to any of us."
Mark Farley with Mountain Park Community Church said when they hosted the families in January they saw three families leave the program because they found permanent housing during the week, and two families found employment. He also saw members of his congregation become good friends with the families in the program.
To join the program or find out how to help, visit familypromise.org or attend the next Homeless Advocacy Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at St. Benedict's Catholic Church, 16223 S. 48th St.
For more information on the group or the meeting, contact Pat Impicinni at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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