BREVARD COUNTY - At First Church Melbourne, the Life Enrichment Center has a new purpose: classrooms have been turned into bedrooms and Brevard County families in transition now have a safe place to live for a week at a time.
It can be difficult to understand how families end up homeless until people share their personal stories and experiences. Homelessness is often the result of a lost job, work reduction that no longer meets expenses, work lost because of a medical condition or financially crippling medical expenses. The end result is that expenses for home ownership or rent and utilities can no longer be met. At this point, families move in with relatives, if that is an option, seek help at a shelter, live in their cars or even on vacant property. There are limited facilities in Brevard and most counties for homeless families, especially those with a single father and young children. Most facilities are designed to assist mothers with children or men without children.
In 2013, responding to the growing need in Brevard County, First Church Melbourne joined a team of local churches who were working together to establish Family Promise of Brevard (FPOB), a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to address homelessness in Brevard County. They are one of 13 community host churches that make up the FPOB’s Interfaith Hospitality Network. Four times a year, one week at a time, each church houses, feeds and provides loving support to families experiencing homelessness. With the assistance of FPOB case managers, families find employment, obtain medical services, get access to government and community assistance and children obtain busing to their home schools.
|The beds are made, providing a comfortable place to sleep in the First Church Life Enrichment Center.|
Over the past two and a half years, First Church Melbourne has hosted 10 weeks, which included on average two to three families. Their last hosting was four families and a total of 14 individuals. Each family has a different story, which unfortunately, has included the same ending—homelessness. However, through the efforts of Family Promise of Brevard and the Interfaith Hospitality Network, 60 families have been assisted to date.
Family Promise volunteers provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for all family members so that as the families obtain employment, they are able to save the majority of their paycheck in preparation for the expenses they will face when they get back on their own.
While in the First Church Melbourne facility, hosts are available at all times to provide the families with whatever essentials they may need. The facility includes bedrooms, a gymnasium, enclosed playgrounds, showers, kitchen, laundry machines and a gathering room with games and books. Teens are invited to join the youth group when it meets on Wednesday evenings. Individuals from the congregation donate food for the week. Hosts prepare, serve and eat dinner with guest families and throughout the evening talk with and provide encouragement to family members. Overnight hosts sleep in the facilities and provide breakfast in the morning. Following their host time, volunteers pray for specific individuals and specific needs. The relationships made are beneficial to everyone: guests and volunteers.
Volunteers talk about how they better understand the challenges facing struggling families and how their compassion has grown when they personally know people in this situation. Often, they want to do more because of their experience and find ways to support the organization in other ways like donating used furniture, baby and children items and clothes. Hearts are moved when you sit across the dinner table, hear their hopes and dreams, and realize that with a little assistance you can help this family get back on the right track.
Families typically visit four to six churches during their time with Family Promise of Brevard, thereby gaining the benefit of a network of blessings from all who assist them. We are encouraged in this ministry by the resolve we see within these families and their willingness to work whatever job is available for them. We heard recently that one of the families we assisted, a single mother and son, are purchasing their own house and will soon be moving in.
Individually, it is often impossible to assist families who are facing very challenging situations; collectively all things are possible!