In the winter, it is especially difficult for Venice families to find affordable housing because of the seasonal nature of our community. It is equally difficult for them to find affordable hotel rooms. The Venice population grows so much in the winter that many families in need end up in tents in the woods or sleeping in their cars. This is dangerous not only because it can get cold at night, but also because there is no security living in a tent or car with children. Homeless parents worry constantly about their children's safety.
Since 2014, the nonprofit Family Promise of South Sarasota County has sought to aid families with minor children who are in need of temporary housing by providing shelter, meals and services with a goal of helping parents achieve lasting self-sufficiency. The Family Promise Day Center, the hub for families during their time in the Family Promise Program, opened in 2015, and between 2016 and 2017, the organization raised $63,000 for a playground at the Day Center, which opened in the summer of 2017.
“One of our biggest successes is the community engagement and the awareness that brings,” says Jennifer Fagenbaum, Family Promise executive director. “These are normal families who have had a rough time making ends meet. Most of the families we serve are homeless simply because their rent was high. They were living paycheck to paycheck and then someone got sick or the car broke down and everything fell apart.”
Family Promise’s needs include increasing connections with landlords to work with families, volunteers at the Day Center and toiletries. The program is also seeking more participant congregations.
“The commitment is one week a quarter, which is only four weeks a year,” Jennifer says. “The congregation would host our families from Sunday evening one weekend to the following Sunday morning. Families are with the congregation from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next morning. Then they come to our Day Center, which is open seven days a week. The congregations provide meals and fellowship for the families, with a maximum of three families at a time, no more than 14 people.”
Family Promise has an 80 percent success rate for rehousing families and keeping those families housed for a full year following the program. Currently, the program has 12 to 15 families on its waiting list each month. Family Promise offers emergency sheltering with partner hotels and case management for families it cannot take into its shelter program to ensure no family is left on the streets. A generous matching grant from Help Us Move In Foundation also provides assistance with move-in costs and homeless prevention for past-due rent to keep those families who are behind on rent from getting evicted in the first place.
“It is much cheaper and less traumatic to keep a family housed than it is to get a family rehoused,” Jennifer explains.
A grant from Gulf Coast Community Foundation supports a follow-up program, Keeping the Promise. In this program, families rehoused through the congregational shelter program can qualify for assistance with move-in costs, as well as a $100 to $400 rent subsidy for a two-year period, providing the families continue case management and the requirements of the program.
Family Promise has served 84 families, including 148 children in South Sarasota County.
“When you say ‘homeless,’ people get a stereotype in their minds,” Jennifer says. “But homeless families can be anybody. People don’t believe that there are 800 homeless children in our area, but there are. Much of our working is raising the awareness of our community’s reality and its needs.”
720 Shamrock Blvd., 941.497.9881, FamilyPromiseSSC.org