|Interfaith Hospitality Network|
As a hosting congregation, we serve three to four families for a week, two to four times a year. The families are assisted by Seton volunteers who provide them with the basic needs and support. We prepare breakfast and dinner for the families along with providing evening activities for the children.
“In the past, it was single moms and kids, but we are seeing hardworking fathers and husbands having to move into shelters,” she says.
Homelessness in Indianapolis has risen by 78 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention. Forty-one percent of the homeless are members of homeless families. IHN, founded in 1986, is active in 39 states. St. Elizabeth Seton joined in 1994. Twenty churches in Greater Indianapolis take turns hosting homeless families for one to two weeks at a time. Since IHN’s restart, 10 families have been helped, and one family is back on its feet. Volunteers at each church donate food for meals. They cook, set up beds, and serve as activity hosts, overnight hosts and van drivers. Guest families stay overnight at each church and are driven to the IHN day center every morning. About 80 volunteers are involved at St. Elizabeth Seton, said coordinator Todd Vanderohe. "This is not a pseudo-permanent thing,” he said. “It is a temporary emergency shelter and the program tries to address the root of chronic homelessness. “The families are really nice to us and to each other,” Vanderohe said. “It is very valuable for our parishioners to see how similar they are to us, in faith and in responsibility as parents. It also gives the guests hope as they see their similarities to us, and they focus on the importance of being good moms and dads.” “It is very rewarding,” he said. “One my favorite moments, the reason I keep doing this, was when I was serving breakfast on a cold February morning, and a woman came in to eat and said, ‘It must be really nice to be rich.’
“I didn’t know what to say,” Vanderohe said. “But, I am very fortunate to live in an affluent area and have a good job so my wife can stay home with our kids. I can’t imagine being in that woman’s position. I literally said nothing to that woman, but I thought about that for days. That’s why I keep doing this. And it’s why we all do it. I tell that story to all the volunteers.” The average stay was once 41 days, “but with the economic downturn, families stay in the program from 60-75 days,” Glenn said. “It takes 30 days to get started on unemployment. The system is inundated with so many people in need of services. Some people fall through the cracks in the meantime. We have 65 families – 175 people – in need of emergency shelter who are on a waiting list,” she said. “It is almost overwhelming. My assistant asked me, ‘How do you do it – how can you turn these families away?’ I just remember that I am helping three families right now, and when they get out of the program, I can help three or four more families.” On average, four families are in the program at one time. IHN has a 14-passenger van to drive guests from each church to the day center. "I want to get two rotations of families running in IHN at one time,” Glenn said. “Long-term, I would like to have four rotations, but, we need funding. We run fully on donations from congregations, businesses, private donations and grants.” Services include networking with social service agencies for assessment and referrals. The day center offers storage, a computer lab with Internet, medical triage, showers, clothing, tutoring, and telephone service. Guests are also given help with resumes and interviewing skills. "One guest didn’t get a job offer because the employer found out he was homeless,” Glenn said. “We have lines that we just answer, ‘Hello,’ so an employer would just think whoever answers is a family member. That’s important – it gives our guests a feeling of responsibility and comfort.” “All the families have been so grateful, they want to pay back,” she said. “Their lives have changed and they want to change other people’s lives as well.
“My job is so rewarding,” Glenn said.” You are grateful for what you have when you get home each day. I have a home, I have someplace to go – it really puts things in perspective.” The Pickney family: Jerome and Carbresha, plus Daniel, 14 months, and 2-week-old twin boys, Jayrome and Jerome Jr., were IHN guests at St. Elizabeth Seton. “I really like IHN, it’s helping us,” said Carbresha Pickney, who gave birth to the twins while in the program. “We had a room right after I got out of the hospital, and it was a comfortable place for us,” she said. “We get good meals and people come and get Daniel and give us time to play with the babies.” “This is such a purpose-driven program, my husband and I are happy to get involved,” said Ann O’Connor-Bruhn, a member of St. Elizabeth Seton, who comes in after dinner to direct activities. “The families are all fantastic,” she said. “They are hard-working people with kids who need the help. I enjoy giving mothers a break from their kids, and I think when kids get more activity they behave better.” “This gives people a real good chance to get on their feet,” guest Larry Collins said. “It helps build our emotions back up. It’s unique and I think it’s very interesting to have the input from different religions. I have learned a lot and experienced a lot. “While we are in here, all the families pull together,” Collins said. “It’s a nice group, and everyone looks out for each other. When we get back on our feet, we’ve already discussed coming back and helping. It’s the volunteers who make the program.” The guest families elect a house manager to take care of any issues that come up at each location. The families also do chores, and “that gives us a chance to give back,” he said. “I feel good about that; everybody does.” “This really helps us make the best of our situation,” Mary Collins said. “The kids get to experience new faiths and meet new people. Our kids don’t suffer. They go to day camp, including trips to Conner Prairie (history park) and the circus. That is something we could not afford to do if we were in an apartment right now. “My son asked how long we were going to be on this vacation,” she said. “I just can’t say enough – I am so grateful. We really appreciate all the time the volunteers give, and all the time they take away from their own families to help us.”
More information on IHN is on the Web site at www.familypromise.org. Donations can be sent to the day center in care of Interfaith Hospitality Network, 1850 Arsenal, Indianapolis, IN 46218.