Battling discouragement and depression is a constant struggle for people who don’t have their own shelter over their heads.
Mike Bergman, executive director of Family Promise of East Bell County, finds himself
often sharing an encouraging phrase with the homeless families he sees on a daily basis.
“God’s far more interested about your future than your past, so let’s work on your future and leave the past behind.”
Without a permanent address or a steady support system, it’s often difficult for homeless adults to find a job after they hit rock bottom. On top of that, society has developed a stigma about their being lazy, which stacks the chips even higher against those looking for employment.
Bergman and his staff of volunteers find what a lot of homeless families need is someone to tell them they are capable of seeing their goals become a reality.
“For a lot of them, it is a very discouraging thing to be in the situation they are in, so they begin to question themselves and what they’re worth. A lot of it is a matter of encouragement. I have to say ‘You can do this. You have what it takes to do this.’”
Family Promise is located in Temple and can serve up to four families or 14 people at a time, whichever limit they reach first.
“As families find us or we find them, we work with them providing case management and really help them try to address their issues that caused their homelessness in the first place. We help them find work, get additional training or education if that’s what’s needed and really try to get them back on their feet,” Bergman said.
The program currently has four families and a total of 13 people. Because the staff consists of volunteers from local churches, they can only provide basic services to the families. For more complicated cases, other programs such as Family Crisis are referred as options.
Being homeless today doesn’t mean living under a bridge, toting around a cardboard sign and collecting change. Homelessness in America has changed, and families are the fastest growing segment in that population.
“When we say homeless, we aren’t necessarily talking about living in a car or under a bridge. A family is really homeless if they don’t have their own roof over their head, like if they’ve moved in with another family temporarily because they’ve been evicted or something like that,” Bergman said. “There’s a variety of things that can get them into that difficulty. We call it doubling up, where one family moves in with another family.”
The families he has seen come through the program are all different —a mother with a 3-year-old girl, a father with two daughters, a mother and father who are both veterans — but one thing they all share is they have no place to call home.
Once the families have found employment and have a roof of their own over their heads, the struggle is still not over. They often have a hard time providing basic necessities for their children.
Sandra Skinner, owner of Ashley Furniture in Killeen, worked to start a nonprofit “bank” called Furniture for Families that supplies struggling families with free household items. They deliver the furniture all over central Texas from Temple to Copperas Cove at no charge.
In Killeen alone, there are 1,200 homeless students, and when Skinner heard about this, she opened her Ashley Furniture store as a donation point for food and backpacks for those children.
“Homeless kids eat lunch at schools. During spring break, they won’t be able to eat. KISD is gathering new and used backpacks and filling them with food for the kids to have when they won’t get to go to school for those seven days,” Skinner said.
Though Belton and Temple schools don’t have as high a number of homeless students as Killeen, hundreds of students still need the basics like clothes and toiletries.
Senior social work major Cara Scott works as an intern at Project Heartbeat, an organization that works with Belton ISD to meet the needs of homeless kids.
“Right now we have qualified 233 kids in our system, and 50 of them are from the high school. There’s a huge need in Belton, and people don’t know about it and aren’t aware because you don’t really see it,” Scott said. “Whenever people think of homelessness, they think of men with cardboard boxes and signs, where the face of homelessness now in America is just people trying to find homes.”
She works with the students providing items such as clothing, toothpaste, deodorant and other basic hygeine necessities.
Project Heartbeat can only give items to the students, not families, but having that covered for the children is a huge relief for the parents.
“Our main goal is for the kids to have stability. For them to be in our program, they have to be doubled up or homeless or unsheltered. Some of the kids are embarrassed by their situation, especially the high schoolers,” Scott said.
Education is an important step in breaking the cycle of poverty, but for children without a residence, their uncertain futures are a huge hindrance in their ability to learn.
Scott said, “Kids should just be able to go home, do their homework, get fed, have a little fun and then go to bed. But these kids are dealing with the insecurity of ‘I don’t know where I’m going to be tonight; I don’t know if I’ll have food tonight; I don’t know if I’ll have water or electricity tonight.’”