Family gets back on its feet with help from Family Promise

  • Lisa Davis is now sharing an apartment in Pittsfield with her daughter, Mazzy, and son Tyrese. GEOFF FORESTER /Monitor staff

  • Lisa Davis with her daughter Mazzy and her 20-year-old son Tyrese at the Family Promise offices on Loudon last week. The Davis family has found an apartment in Pittsfield after facing homelessness earlier this year. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lisa Davis in her bedroom of apartment in Pittsfield. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lisa Davis in the kitchen of her apartment in Pittsfield she shares her daughter Mazzy and her 20-year-old son Tyrese. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lisa Davis in the kitchen of her apartment in Pittsfield she shares her daughter Mazzy and her 20-year-old son Tyrese. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lisa Davis in her bedroom of apartment in Pittsfield. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Case manager Rachel L’Italien stands next to Lisa Davis and Davis’s daughter, Mazzy, and her 20-year-old son Tyrese at the Family Promise offices on Loudon Road last week. The Davis family now lives in Pittsfield. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/14/2019 10:37:12 PM

Lisa Davis pasted shiny, gold acrylic stickers of birds and butterflies on the walls of her family’s new apartment after they moved in.

She bought dark purple curtains and a fluffy cotton-candy colored comforter for her 16-year-old daughter, Mazzy.

In her kitchen, she put candles that smell like sweet corn and vanilla. She hung a dozen family photos up on the walls and displayed her two sons’ 2018 high school graduation tassels proudly on a hook in the living room.

“I had to make it homey,” Davis said of the two-bedroom apartment. “The kids deserve to have a nice home. They’ve worked so hard.”

Davis, her daughter Mazzy and her 20-year-old son Tyrese (Davis’s other son, 19-year-old Austin, still lives in Florida) were in a far different situation less than two months ago, when they were sleeping in a different church every week on cots divided from two other families by a cloth hanging from a pipe in the ceiling.

Davis, who is originally from Concord, moved home from Florida in April to escape a toxic relationship. But after a few months of staying with friends, she and her two children weren’t able to find an apartment they could afford. Like many others who try to find a place to live in an expensive rental market with few vacancies, they found themselves with no place to go.

Homeless

In 2018, the number of families experiencing homelessness contributed to almost half of the overall homeless population in New Hampshire, according to the most recent annual report from the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness. Family homelessness is categorized as at least one parent with a child under the age of 18.

Statewide, the number of school-aged children experiencing homelessness increased from 3,350 in 2015-2016 to 4,043 in 2017-2018.

In many cases, families become homeless due to an event or temporary condition such as loss of a job, mental and or physical illness, domestic violence or divorce, according to the report.

Concord has two shelters that specifically address family homelessness: Family Promise of Greater Concord and the Friend’s Program.

It can be difficult to get into the programs because of demand, but Davis said she was lucky to get into Family Promise when there was an opening.

Not only did they give the family a place to sleep, but also gas gift cards and financial planning help.

She said that after a few difficult years, she needed that support for a fresh start.

“It kind of did build my faith back because it made me feel like God really had my back,” she said. “We’ve been fully blessed in this situation. They gave us a place to go when we didn’t have anyplace else.”

Coming home

Davis said she didn’t take much with her when she left. She just knew she had to get out of her situation as soon as possible.

“I’ve been married to the wrong people. We’ve been in and out of domestic relationships. We’ve been harassed. We’ve been going through hell and back,” Davis said “It was just draining me, tearing me apart. It was time to go home.”

Davis, Tyrese and Mazzy put all the clothes they could pack into Davis’s 2009 Subaru Forester, along with a few special items. She wrapped a few porcelain dolls that used to be her grandmother’s in a green curtain and tucked those in the backseat. A few precious stuffed animals – a ghost she named for her sister, who her family calls “Boo,” and a teddy bear – also came along for the ride.

When the family got to New Hampshire, they stayed with a family friend in Franklin for a couple of months, but it was a tight fit with her two children and her friend’s four children.

Davis said she spent most of the money she had saved for an apartment on food for her and her friend’s family. It was not a sustainable living situation.

She found Family Promise online and gave them a call. A family had just left the program and they had an opening, a caseworker told her. She took the spot.

Family Promise

At Family Promise, rooms are filled with boxes of basketballs and Legos, couches and plushy chairs, and walls are covered in Dr. Seuss quotes.

The nonprofit, located on the second floor of the Catholic Charities of New Hampshire office on Loudon Road, was founded in 2014. Three families, or 15 people, are able to be in the program at once. The average stay is usually two to four months.

The main requirements for getting into the program are that parents and kids must pass a background check and drug tests, have transportation and some sort of income.

Davis and both her children have jobs. Davis was working in the Steeplegate Mall, Tyrese was working at a Concord diner and Mazzy was working at McDonald’s.

“We don’t have drug or alcohol problems,” Davis said. “We’re not out there partying or hanging out. We’re actually out there working and busting our butt.” She said it bothers her when people assume they are just taking advantage of government programs or community resources.

Close relationships

Family Promise has 12 interfaith spaces of worship that rotate as sleeping quarters for families.

Families are able to stay at Family Promise’s office during the day. There, they can shower, rest and use the computer. Mazzy said one of her favorite days was when her caseworker brought in her hound dog mix to play with them.

Davis said she developed close relationships with the three women who run Family Promise: executive director Liane MaLossi Kerbyson, case manager Rachel L’Italien and administrative assistant Leesa Allison.

On her birthday, they got her cupcakes and a $60 gift card for Boutwell’s Bowling Center.

“I don’t want people to feel like they’re in survival mode all the time,” L’Italien said. “They need a break.”

Tyrese said his family used to be able to go out to dinner or to the movies – their favorites are superhero films. He said he hopes when they get through this transition, they’ll be able to again.

“My hardest part is not having enough money to take my family out once in a while to do some nice things,” he said. “I want to provide for them.”

Financial planning

Money management is a huge part of the Family Promise program. The goal is for participants to save 70% of their income while in the program so they can have enough to put their first month’s rent and a deposit down on a place to live. Participants aren’t paying rent while in the program and are served breakfast and dinner at the churches to save money.

Davis said Family Promise also helped her out with other payments she needed to make along the way: They gave her gas cards to help her drive to the different churches and helped her with $400 she needed to fix her car.

L’Italien said a lot of people don’t come in with budgeting skills. She goes over clients’ bank accounts with them, and they set up a debt repayment sheet to help them manage their money. Often, they have to have tough conversations.

“My philosophy is, let them make mistakes and learn from it. I can’t hold your hand because I’m not going to be able to hold your hand once you’re gone. I can only educate you and hope you do the right thing,” L’Italien said. “It’s a short-term thing – that’s why they come in here with an income and goals and have a job. We just want to help you save and get back on your feet.”

New start

Davis said one of the best parts of the Family Promise program is the volunteers her family met along the way.

“You’re always surrounded by good, positive people making you feel at home,” she said.

But after weeks of working long hours – sometimes until 10 or 11 at night – Davis said it was exhausting to drive to the shelters. Although her family was safe, it was still hard to get a solid night’s sleep. The place of worship they would be staying at could be as far as 30 miles away, depending on the week, and families had to be out early so the faith organizations could run programming.

“It was so stressful and tiring. There were times when I did want to give up because I could tell how exhausted and drained they were mentally,” Davis said. “Every single week, you’re changing to a different area. It’s like constantly very tiring, then when you start getting comfortable somewhere you’ve got to go to another place.”

The family of three slept in shelters for 40 days, from the beginning of June to mid-July, until they were able to move into an apartment in the capital area – a two-bedroom for $895 a month, including utilities. Most of the furniture they brought into the apartment was donated by community organizations.

They still keep in touch with Family Promise, which tracks all of the families who leave their program to make sure they are staying afloat.

Mazzy just started her junior year of high school. Davis said her other son, Austin, may be coming up to live with them soon. She is praying that he will come to New Hampshire and that they will all be able to spend time together as a family.

Davis hopes to travel once Mazzy turns 18, possibly to Japan because she loves the anime, food and cherry blossoms. She wants to take time for herself after many years of working to support others.

“God is good. I take every day as if it could and will be my last,” she said. “I want to live it to the fullest.”

If you go

Family Promise will be having a thank you “friend-raiser” for all the people that volunteer for the program on Tues day from 6 to 8 p.m. The event at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 90 Clinton St. will feature a graduate of the program speaking about her experience. Volunteers are welcome to bring a friend. 

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)




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