Homeless families in Cape May County now have a base camp of sorts to find a place to look for a job, eat, do laundry, and get day care for their children as they try to get their lives back together.
That place is at 505 Townbank Road, the new facility of the nonprofit Family Promise of Cape May County.
“This is a place for them to hang their hat, do laundry and get ready for school and work,” Director Laurie Johnson said.
Cape May County has no homeless shelter. Since 2009, Family Promise, led by a large volunteer force and financial contributions from the community, has been finding churches for homeless families to live in. During the last four years, 32 families have been served by the program, staying in churches while jobs and permanent living quarters are found. Only those who are drug- and alcohol-free are accepted.
The program has an 83 percent success rate at finding jobs for its clients, Johnson said.
Its newest facility is at a former day-care center that had been closed for years. Using a U.S. Department of Agriculture low-interest loan, Family Promise bought the building for $249,000 and spent $100,000 renovating it. The building was dedicated May 15 and will officially open for business, initially with three families using it, sometime this week.
The facility houses a kitchen, laundry, computers for job searches, bathrooms to shower and a full-day care center with staff to watch children while their parents look for work and permanent quarters.
“This gives them that hand up, as opposed to that hand out,” Johnson said.
Some clients make just enough money to fall outside the government's social welfare net, Johnson noted. Some have some government assistance, but Johnson said it’s not enough for the rental costs in Cape May County. The nonprofit interviews quite a few families to find applicants are willing to take a drug test, she said.
“We've taken some families out of cars and campgrounds,” she said.
The building will include offices for Family Promise, which for the past four years rented a small place in Rio Grande, Middle Township. The first floor includes the day care, computers, laundry room and kitchen; the second floor is office space.
Johnson hopes a local landscapers may help make the large yard something special. She envisions planting a vegetable garden and is looking for somebody to donate playground equipment.
Family Promise has pushed the idea that homelessness is personal as it rallied the congregations of 35 churches to help the cause. Rev. Ron Crouch, who gave the keynote address when the building was dedicated on May 15, noted that many people have family or friends that have been homeless, and may themselves be a paycheck or two away from becoming homeless.
“It's personal,” Crouch said. “That's what gives Family Promise its power.”
Johnson said the venture has helped transform the congregations of the churches that provide shelter, meals and support for homeless families. Many have volunteered to help find apartments and jobs. Sometimes the key is saving money for several months to afford things such as security deposits.
Family Promise relies on in-kind donations as services such as bookkeeping are done by volunteers. Johnson said FX Construction & Design did the renovation work, basically at cost, and Homestead Real Estate waived its commission for finding the building.
Other donations including paint for the walls and refreshments for the dedication donated by area businesses. Johnson said United Way helps pay the first month's rent and utilities when places to live are found.
Everybody is not happy about it.
Johnson said some opposed the facility when they thought it was going to be a homeless shelter. She said the families, which must have children to be accepted into the program, will be taken by van to the churches where they will spend the nights. They will be brought to the facility in the morning.
“We're not a shelter. We're a hospitality house. They have a base to look for a job, do a job search on computers and go for interviews,” Johnson said. “They have an address to receive mail, and they don't have to spend any money.”
When the group first formed, Johnson said, it was mostly single mothers with children. More recently, more two-parent families have come into the program. The group has regular contributors, which Johnson said helped draw the USDA funding.
For those wishing to contribute money, volunteer hours or equipment, Johnson can be reached at 609-846-7862.
Contact Richard Degener: