JMB Charity Spotlight: Raise Awareness of Homelessness with Family Promise’s Cardboard City

The stereotypical image of a homeless person is an adult man or woman, perhaps with mental health or addiction issues. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. One out of four of the homeless in the United States is a child age six or younger. Nearly 40% of our nation’s homeless are families with children. Every public school in Duval County has at least one homeless student.

One answer is Family Promise. Family Promise began 30 years ago in New York City when Karen Olson, the founder, met a mother with teenage boys living on the street. When Ms. Olson learned that shelters would often separate mother and sons, she sought a solution. She created a partnership with churches, tapping into unused space to provide shelter and willing volunteers to provide meals.

Today, Family Promise has more than 200 affiliates in 43 states. Its model is different from traditional shelters. Instead of operating its own shelter, Family Promise partners with local congregations for shelter, food and hospitality. Each evening, the current families or “guests” go to that week’s host church. They eat a home-cooked meal prepared by church volunteers. Very often, parents learn of job leads while eating dinner with volunteers. Each family stays in their own room together. Each day the families return to the Family Promise offices. There they work on their Family Permanence Plan with the case manager, addressing the problems that lead to homelessness and find a way to return to stability. In the evening, they return to the same church.

Intensive case management is a hallmark of Family Promise and is key to its success of 85% of the families returning to stability. Family Promise serves single mothers with children, single fathers with children and grandparents raising grandchildren. Teens, young adult children and grandparents living with the family can stay with their family. Family Promise partners with 17 congregations in Jacksonville and numerous agencies providing a range of services.

Cardboard City and the Social Service Maze

Family Promise’s seventh annual Cardboard City will be “constructed” November 17-18, 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on the grounds of CrossRoad United Methodist Church, where participants can challenge themselves at the Social Service Maze, a new interactive experience. You will have your “family” scenario and then attempt to navigate the social programs to get the resources you need to move out of homelessness. You’ll need to find shelter, food, a job and more. Appropriate for all ages, this event combines fundraising with a better understanding of what it means to be homeless and includes a simple, cafeteria-style meal donated by the Alhambra Dinner Theater.

Support Family Promise by collecting donations for spending the evening or spending the night in your cardboard box, tent or car. This is a great event for families, youth groups and anyone who wants to make a difference in the life of a child. For more information, please visit, email [email protected] or call (904) 537-3645.

How You Can Help Those in Need

Create a housewarming basket. In a laundry basket or a trash bin, place glass cleaner, Clorox wipes, toilet bowl cleaner with brush, bleach, laundry detergent, cleaning spray, hand soap, sponges, paper towels, trash bags, toilet paper, Kleenex, pack of wash clothes, 2 to 4 bath towels, plastic food storage bags or containers and a broom or mop. Top it off with a bow and an encouraging note.

Contribute the essentials such as kitchen goods, towels, bedding and pillows. These items are always needed.

Donate gift cards to Walmart, Target, Amazon, gas cards or bus passes.

Make a financial contribution. Family Promise has House of Change, which are cardboard houses with a slot to drop in change and is an easy way to make a gift.

Hold a fundraiser for Family Promise.

Encourage your church to become a host church. Churches generally host families three to four weeks each year.

Keep updates and learn more by visiting Family Promise online or their Facebook page.

About the Author

Beth Mixson, Development Director of Family Promise of Jacksonville, has spent most of her career working for nonprofit agencies. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she worked for a nonprofit supporting public education in Nashville, Tennessee before marrying her husband, then a Navy pilot and relocating to Jacksonville. After 30+ years here, it’s safe to say she calls this home. Before joining Family Promise, she worked at the Sanctuary on 8th Street and other agencies. A mother of three, with two sons in college and a daughter who is a high school, senior, she excelled at being a homeroom parent, serving on parent associations and bakes a mean brownie. When she had three children in three different schools “No Child Left Behind” had a literal meaning in her house.

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