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Housing ministry helps families take next steps

Housing ministry helps families take next steps

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Housing ministry helps families take next steps

By Jenna De Marco | Feb. 9, 2010 {1138}

NOTE: This article is the fifth and last in a series on ways ministries in the Florida Conference are helping individuals and families cope with the current economic downturn. Links to the first four articles are included in the “related stories” section at the end of this article.

Sabrina Foley is a 23-year-old single mother from Bradenton and a nursing student at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. And not long ago, she was homeless.

Sabrina Foley (center) helps cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony for her new home. Photo courtesy of Trinity United Methodist Church. Photo #10-1399.

After her divorce, she found herself in the precarious position of having to find an affordable place to live. Thanks to Trinity United Methodist Church in Bradenton and Family Promise of Manatee County, she didn’t have to look far. Leaders and members of the two groups provided her with a place she and her 4-year-old son now call home.

The two live in a two-bedroom transitional house provided through a partnership between the church and Family Promise, a national organization that helps low-income and homeless people live independently. After living for several months in temporary shelters coordinated by Family Promise, Foley says the home gives her the stability she needs.

“I don’t know how I would be able to finish school and work and be able to support my child if I wasn’t in this program,” she said.

Foley’s house is one of four residences provided by Trinity for transitional housing, said Bonnie Goodman, the church’s membership and outreach director. Trinity’s ongoing work with Family Promise’s temporary shelter program helped spark its new effort as a transitional housing provider, she said. Temporary housing meets the emergency needs of homeless people, she said, but transitional housing is a steppingstone to permanent housing.

The four residential units owned by Trinity were acquired years back when the church purchased land adjacent to its campus. About a year ago, the Rev. Jim Rosenburg, Trinity’s senior pastor, suggested that the units could be effective ministry tools if used as transitional houses.

Support for the idea grew among church trustees and members, some of whom had been affected by recent job losses. Goodman said many members of the church realize “we are all a paycheck away from being there ourselves.”

Rosenburg also emphasized that providing transitional housing demonstrates “radical hospitality,” one of the five practices of The Methodist Way. With roots both in the Wesleyan heritage of The United Methodist Church and in the example of Jesus Christ, The Methodist Way is a disciple-making process being embraced by the denomination. It’s also the basis for the Missional Vital Signs all churches in the Florida Conference are being asked to track.

A volunteer works on the flooring in one of the Trinity homes being renovated as transitional housing. Photo by Bill Pretyka. Photo #10-1400.

“Partnering with Family Promise is a powerful way to reach out to our Manatee County families that have been stricken by misfortune and give them a helping hand back into mainstream independence,” Rosenburg said.

Churches prepare homes for new residents

The Trinity community decided to repair and renovate the homes first, which Goodman said was a cooperative effort between volunteers from Family Promise and area churches.

Bill Pretyka, a member of nearby Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton and a volunteer with Family Promise, was one of the project’s active participants. Rosenberg invited him to work on the project after learning about Pretyka’s passion for ending homelessness.

In helping with renovations, Pretyka said he expected to change other people’s lives, but he instead found it was his own life that was changed. Serving with the other volunteers was a “phenomenal” experience, he said. He also praised Trinity’s leadership for their courage in providing the homes.

“They had no proof of concept, but they had faith in the program,” he said.

Combining his concern for the homeless with his carpentry hobby, Pretyka helped coordinate the 150-plus volunteers who worked every Saturday for months.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life, not of this scale,” he said. “People, all they want is to be led in the direction of where He wants them to go. All I have to do is ask.”

After gutting and sanitizing the homes, volunteers updated kitchens and bathrooms and replaced old windows, appliances, and plumbing and sewer lines. The also painted and installed carpet.

“We have a long list of local businesses (that) have donated their services or given their services at cost,” Pretyka said. “All the paint was donated, and all the flooring and carpeting was donated. … People were donating just about entire houses of furniture.”

Volunteers move donated furniture into Foley’s new home. Photo by Bill Pretyka. Photo #10-1401.

All of the homes are fully furnished, including such smaller items as towels, linens and dishes. The kitchens were also stocked with food. With the volunteer labor and donated materials, the total costs for repairs came to less than $4,000, Pretyka said.

Saint James United Methodist Church in Sarasota also provides a transitional home for Family Promise. It was purchased about 10 years ago below market value and has had some renovations, said the Rev. Kim Joyner, senior pastor at the church. He says sharing it with Family Promise is mutually beneficial — it provides shelter for homeless families and helps the church build partnerships with local businesses.

“It meets the need of the church in getting involved in serving and gives us a chance to engage members of the community,” Joyner said.

Transitional housing fills gap
Family Promise director Bruce Webster says transitional housing meets a unique need — helping people gain the financial footing necessary for obtaining and remaining in a permanent residence.

“It actually is the trend of most homeless programs to move (people) into transitional housing, and Family Promise has put a big emphasis on it nationally,” he said. “The issue is that there is a lack of affordable housing.”

More than 92 percent of the rental units in Manatee County cost $500 per month or more, according to the 2008 American Community Survey by the United States Census. About 75 percent of the rental units cost $750 or more, the report says. Even employed people, especially those making minimum wage, can find it difficult to earn enough income to pay these prices, plus deposits for the first and last month, Webster said.

A solution is to provide no-deposit housing at reduced prices for about six to 12 months per family, Webster said, so that residents can save some money and establish better financial habits. At the Trinity residences, tenants pay a flat rate of $250 per unit, plus utilities. Trinity’s properties include two single-family homes and a duplex of two units. Family Promise leases the homes from Trinity and then subleases them to residents.

Saint James United Methodist Church in Sarasota provided this home as transitional housing. Photo courtesy of Saint James United Methodist Church. Photo #10-1402.

The organization requires several criteria from its transitional housing residents. “It’s a very intentional program,” Webster said, with such qualifications as employment, a willingness to abide by neighborly behaviors and participation in a budgeting program.

Foley said the supervision she is receiving is helping her plan for financial independence.

“They have basically given me all of the tools that I need to become successful in life, and I will forever be grateful,” she said. “They are basically setting you up for success.”

More information about Family Promise is available at

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News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.