Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
I am writing about something that has consumed my heart and thoughts during the past year. It is something that is not going to go away unless we, as a community of faith, come together, get involved, and do something.
I am writing about people like you and me. These people are suffering from hardship and humiliation. They have little or no hope of things getting better. I am writing about homeless families in Tooele County.
The face of homelessness is no longer the stereotypical image. The homeless are not necessarily drug- or alcohol-addicted criminals who got there because of their choices, or choose to live on the streets.
While it is true that many adult homeless people currently struggle with addictions, or have struggled in the past, many don’t have, nor have had a drug or alcohol problem. They also have never been in trouble with the law. They are families with moms and dads and children. They are families who attend your church and their children are in your Sunday school classes.
Approximately 600 children K-12 in Tooele County are considered homeless. They are either doubled up with other family members, or are living with friends. In any event, they are in volatile living situations. These kids struggle in school because they are more concerned about what they will eat, or where they will sleep at night, than they are about learning to spell or do math.
There has been an increase in the homeless population of families all across Utah, including Tooele County. They include traditional families, one-parent families, veterans, working people, and victims of domestic violence.
Did you know that families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population? Did you know that more than half of the homeless are women and children? Lower-income families often live paycheck to paycheck. And something as simple as a mom or dad getting the flu can send families into a financial tail spin that results in homelessness.
Did you know that we do not have any overnight shelter for homeless families in Tooele County?
While many people in the community may not be aware of the exact numbers, most are aware that we do have a problem. I have heard from many of you. You have stated that you do know of the homeless situation and you do want to respond to the needs of these families. However, you just don’t know where, or how, to begin.
I believe that Family Promise is the solution. Family Promise is an interfaith hospitality alliance that helps homeless families achieve lasting self-sufficiency.”
Family Promise is designed to provide shelter, meals and comprehensive services for homeless families through local churches. Family Promise is more than just a meal and a blanket. It is a program that helps people get out of the cycle of homelessness. This is done through programs designed to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
I have witnessed in my interactions with my congregation and residents that this is a compassionate community that cares about the homeless issue. Most people want to help. Many needs are met once we have knowledge of them. I believe it is time to educate the community on what we, as a community of faith, can do to help. We can do more than just meet emergency needs. We can systematically work at long term solutions.
I hope by now you are asking yourself the question: “How can I help or what can I do?” You can start by helping to get the word out and attending a Family Promise Community Night meeting that is held every third Thursday of the month. The next meeting will be on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at Tooele United Methodist Church at 78 E. Utah Ave. Come and learn more about how you can offer hope and change to these families.
This quote from a past guest of Family Promise — Salt Lake summarizes the importance of reaching out to local individuals and families that are homeless.
“My son and I were sick. I was eight months pregnant, and I had nothing and had nowhere to go. Before Family Promise, I considered adoption for my unborn son because I had no other options. Today, I am living on my own, working and enrolled in school, and my two boys and I are doing well.”
For more information on Family Promise nationally, go to www.familypromise.org or read more testimonials from local families at www.fpsl.org.
Rev. Paulsen is pastor at Tooele United Methodist Church.