Network of Knoxville Churches Open To Homeless

12:45 AM, Jan 23, 2012   |    comments
  • Church Coordinator Jennifer Bohlken
  • McBayne shows off her Caribbean-inspired yams.
  • Two-year-old Sophia Miller plays with bubbles in the church's common room.
  • The churches convert space into temporary private bedrooms.
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On Saturday night self described 'Jill-of-all-trades' Denesse McBayne devoted herself to her real passion-- cooking.

"We're not only feeding their bodies," says McBayne. "We're feeding their spirit."

She spent the afternoon at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd whipping up a Caribbean feast to feed the members of the Family Promise program.

For one week, four times a year, a network of 16 churches throughout the Knoxville area take turns hosting homeless families of all sizes and descriptions.

This past week it was the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd's turn. They put up four homeless families by converting church space into temporary bedrooms.

As 2-year old Sophia Miller dances in an out of a constant stream from a bubble maker in the churches common room, it's easy to imagine all is right in her world.

But homelessness brought her, her mother, and her other sister to the Family Promise program.

24-year-old Brittany Miller says she got engaged and moved to be with her fiance. When the relationship didn't work out, she says, her family wound up homeless..

"All it takes is one mistake, a simple mistake," says Miller. "And you end up here."


But she says she's thankful for the program.

"The homeless situation sucks. But the program itself is wonderful," says Miller.

When she arrived just after Thanksgiving, Family Promise provided her a booklet of names and numbers to help her navigate the system. She managed to get a copy of her birth certificate and gain health insurance.

Church coordinator Jennifer Bohlken says the church embraces the program, because the program embraces everyone.

"If you call yourself a family, they call you a family," explains Bohlken.

She says unlike many traditional shelters, Family Promise accepts non-traditional families.

That was the situation McBayne found herself in just over a year ago.

She was living with her two children, one an adult, the other in elementary school, when they all  became homeless.

"We just didn't fit into a lot of their categories," says McBayne of the area shelters.

After working a steady job for many years, her family lost their footing after the murder of her grandson.

Her family suffered through a lengthy trial after her 19-month-old grandson was murdered by the his mother's boyfriend.

In the aftermath, she says she planned to move out of the state and take a job in Alabama. But when the murder trial got delayed, she had to push back her plans.

Eventually the job disappeared, and so did their savings and home.

"I was emotionally, physically, mentally, financially, bankrupt."

She graduated the Family Promise program in forty days. Now she has a job at a daycare and an apartment with her young daughter.

She's also become a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

"They didn't say 'no.' They didn't turn their head. They didn't say 'oh, I'll pray for you," says McBayne. "They said 'common.'


Miller says she and her girls also plan to return to the church.

"They make you feel like family, it's really nice," says Miller.

Early Sunday morning Miller and the rest of the Family Promise program packed up their belongings and prepared to move to their new host church.

It's a cycle McBayne lived in just a over a year ago.

"I came here with hunched should]ers," says McBayne. "I left with my head held high."

A gift she chalks up to experience. Because she says only after she lost her house, did she find her true home with the church.

For more information on the program click here.

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