July 19, 2008

Committed to a Promise: Local Churches Offer Services to Help Out Homeless Families

By Daniel Skolfield, Odessa American, Texas

Jul. 19--During the day, Sirena Torres puts people with bad credit behind the wheel of a nice, used vehicle -- at night, she struggles to put a roof over her children's heads.

The single, 31-year-old working mother of four boys and one girl sells cars for a living, which means she works on commission.

But, having five children ages 6 to 13 means the Odessa mom needs three bedrooms to house them all -- and with sky-high rent prices, Torres has a tough time keeping her family together.


"I'm having a really hard time -- I work, but I'm barely making enough to support my children," she said. "I sometimes stay with my mother and I do have a boyfriend who does help me out, but they live in one- or two-bedroom apartments. If (their landlords) found out, they'd get evicted -- people aren't very understanding about it."

So the sextet jumps from house to house, visiting relatives and friends and helping out with utilities wherever they stay. Assistance through food stamps and Medicaid helps, but what the family really needs is a four-bedroom house that's affordable for the car saleswoman.

"I've been trying so hard, I just need a house," Torres said. "It's hard on my kids -- the longest we've been someplace is here at my boyfriend's for three weeks."

Torres isn't alone in her housing dilemma, though. A July 6 article in the Odessa American told the story of Juanita Torres and her 12-year-old daughter Angelica who turned to the Salvation Army for shelter after finding themselves homeless and living out of a van.

At the end of the 2007-'08 school year, the Ector County Independent School District counted 490 homeless children in the county, said Wayne Wallace, lead counselor for the district's Student Assistance Services. That includes families who have "doubled up" in a single dwelling because of economic necessity.


The high number of homeless children in the county stirs ECISD teacher Randy McGuire with a passion to help through the nonprofit group called Family Promise of Odessa.

Organized as a voluntary network of local churches, Family Promise provides housing, food and day care for homeless families with children until they're able to save enough money to get back on their feet in a more permanent housing situation.

Success stories from the organization's 127 other networks throughout the United States make McGuire more anxious to see the charity up and running in Odessa.

"That's who we're targeting, that's the kind of people we want to help," he said. "Family Promise is nationally recognized, and it's worked for thousands and thousands of people, we're just a few churches short."

The program can help up to 14 guests at a time, who have an evening meal provided at church buildings where they sleep overnight under the supervision of volunteers. During they day, the guests are driven to a day center for showers, laundry, childcare, meeting with a social worker and pursuing employment or housing -- the center also serves as a mailing address for the families in transition.

Host congregations commit to opening their doors to Family Promise for four one-week segments a year.

McGuire said he had hoped to kick-off the program in September, but the church participation required hasn't been strong enough. Eight Odessa churches have already signed up, but they still need five more in order to start right.

"The beds and dressers are movable to each location, and it won't affect Sunday ministries of the church -- the churches just have to have space," he said. "It's very little for us to do individually, but it accomplishes a lot as a unit -- this is a hand up, not a hand out."


The Rev. Jimmy Braswell, McGuire's pastor at St. Andrew Cumberland Presbyterian Church, said he had some hesitations about Family Promise at first, but he got on board once he saw the need, method and effectiveness of the program.

Many churches have been noncommittal to a social ministry like


--Encourage your church or synagogue to become a host or support congregation.

--Provide employment opportunities.

--Provide rental housing.

--Donate items on the "Wish List."

--Become a corporate sponsor.

--Make financial contributions.

--Participate in special events.

--Volunteer your time or services.

--Share skills (help with auto repairs, give haircuts, provide legal guidance, prepare resumes, etc.)

--Get information by e-mailing Randy McGuire at [email protected]


--Family Promise of Odessa: www.forministry.com/USTXINTERFPROOF


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Copyright (c) 2008, Odessa American, Texas

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