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Family Promise for homeless families seeks new home; neighbors object

9:33 PM, Oct 8, 2012   |    comments
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Folks in Fountain City gathered Monday evening to learn more about an organization wanting to buy a church on Cedar Lane.

Family Promise is an organization that helps homeless families with children get on their feet. They're trying to secure funding to purchase an empty church building to make their headquarters.

But some in the neighborhood are worried about the repurcussions of such an organization moving in. Those on both sides of the issues attended Monday night's town hall meeting.

"What kind of people are going to be on the property? What dangers could possibly be moving in with more inpouring of people?" asked homeowner Laura Whisenant.

"I just needed a chance to get back on my feet, because everyone knows that life is hard and it sometimes knocks you down. But Family Promise was there to pick us up," said Felecia Outsey-Pettway.

Family Promise also explained it does not have homeless shelters. This center would be a place for those in the program to use computers and search for employment.

Various churches house participants at night while they are in the program. 

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A non-profit organization that helps homeless families with children get back on their feet is now raising money for a new home of its own.

But not everyone is ready to welcome the group to their neighborhood.

Family Promise of Knoxville currently operates out of a home in West Knoxville.  The group teams up with volunteers from around 40 churches across the area to provide help to homeless families that have children.  Around 16 of those churches provide beds and food for the families at night.  Then the families can spend the day at the Family Promise headquarters to get training and search for jobs.

"In this economy, we're all one or two paychecks away from being homeless. We're all about keeping children safe and getting them off the street," said Joyce Shoudy, Executive Director of Family Promise of Knoxville.  "We're not a shelter like you typically think of.  You cannot just knock on the door for assistance.  We only help families that have children.  We operate off a waiting list.  We do background checks and screening of the people we help.  We cannot assist families that are dealing with domestic violence issues or substance abuse.  You cannot be convicted of a violent crime.  We are no drama because families that come to us for help have to be in close quarters and get along."

The day center provides computers for assisted families to search for jobs and housing.  The typical program length for helping families is 90 days.

The tight quarters at the current home near Northshore and Lyons View in the Bearden area of Knoxville only allow Family Promise to assist four families at one time.  The answer to the group's prayers recently came when the Presbytery of East Tennessee agreed to sell the non-profit its vacant headquarters on Cedar Lane.  The building was constructed in 1950 originally as the Inskip Presbyterian Church.

"Moving into that space is going to allow us to double the amount of families we can serve.  It is also going to allow us to raise awareness and recruit additional churches to assist Family Promise by showing them what homeless families really look like.  This is not the image you have of a down-and-out single person asking for a handout.  They look just like you and me.  You could be right beside a homeless family and have no idea.  These are proud people who feel humiliated when they first come here because they feel like they have failed as providers, but they are not judged.  They are helped and get back on their feet."

But a few people who live near the vacant presbytery have expressed concerns about their new potential neighbors.  Those concerns include loitering by homeless in search of assistance and a negative impact on property values.  An email to 10News from one neighbor also suggested doubts that such a large space would only remain a day center and that it could likely be utilized for future housing.

Neighbors planned to voice their concerns Monday night at the regularly scheduled Fountain City Town Hall meeting.  Those meetings are held monthly at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.  Coincidentally, the church participates as a host Family Promise.

"I can understand people being concerned because when you hear 'homeless' you think of the folks downtown approaching you for a handout," said Charles Fels at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church.  "We got involved in this because we found out there were children in Fountain City living in cars with their parents.  These are not people with criminal records or addiction problems.  This program is a hand up, not a hand out."

Fels said members of his own congregation had initial fears when the church decided to host homeless families.

"We wondered what we were getting ourselves into.  Who are these people we are inviting into our home?  Then you see these are just good people who are down on their luck and they have kids.  I think when the families of Fountain City learn the facts about the program they will not be concerned."

Family Promise said it has a long way to go before it can purchase the building.  It has received a matching grant that will assist greatly, but it needs to raise $150,000 on its own.

"We just found out about the matching grant three weeks ago, so that is great news.  Our hope and prayer is that we can raise the money in time to close on the property this December," said Shoudy.

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