Family Promise opens new day center location 

  • Amber Frost was able to leave a violent relationship and start anew with her children, Emilio, 6, and Jada, 8. They now live in Franklin thanks to assistance from Family Promise, and Amber has a full-time job. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord Wesley United Methodist Church GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Amber Frost was able to leave a toxic relationship and start anew with her children, Emilio, 6, and Jada, 8, and now lives in Franklin and has a full-time job. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/25/2022 4:46:39 PM

Last spring, Amber Frost found herself in an impossible situation. She had just fled domestic violence in North Carolina, and back in New Hampshire, she was desperately trying to finish college and keep a roof over her kids’ heads in one of the country’s most challenging rental markets.

Her family could only stay with Frost’s mother in her Concord apartment temporarily. Shelters that Frost called as far away as Maine were full. No landlords would accept a single mom with a housing voucher.

That’s when Family Promise of Greater Concord became a “lifesaver,” Frost said. The organization found her family a safe place to stay in Henniker. Eventually, case managers helped Frost find a permanent apartment, scrape together a security deposit, and even get a truck to move her belongings out of storage.

“They helped all the way,” she said. “They really took away all those barriers that make being homeless even worse.”

A year later, Frost will soon graduate with an associate’s degree in mental health counseling. She works full-time as a peer support specialist and lives with her son and daughter in a nice Franklin apartment.

Since 2015, Family Promise has helped more than 150 individuals, or 46 families, like Frost avoid or exit homelessness.

On Thursday, the organization will welcome volunteers and members of the public to an open house from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to celebrate its new offices and resource center on 79 Clinton St., attached to Wesley United Methodist Church.

Coronavirus relief funds of $82,000 distributed through the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery helped Family Promise renovate the space and provide computers for families to use.

The new digs are a far cry from the 700-foot space that Family Promise used to occupy at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Now children have plenty of space to play or do their homework in a brightly lit room while guardians meet with case managers. There are laundry machines and showers available for families to use.

Executive Director Liane MaLossi Kerbyson said homeless adults in the community are more visible than families.

“They’re going from couch to couch, or there are parents that are living in subsidized housing, but they can’t stay there long,” MaLossi Kerbyson said. “So they have to leave again. But you don’t see them in the Market Basket parking lot.”

Family Promise is one of two shelter options in Concord for homeless families, along with the Friends Program, which has an emergency shelter with space for eight families.

In Family Promise’s program, a family moves each week between 13 interfaith sites, where volunteers provide lodging and meals.

“It’s a very lean operation,” said F. Paul Russo, chair of the Family Promise Board of Trustees. Apart from saving on costs, the community-based program gets more local residents involved, raising the profile of family homelessness.

A family usually stays in the shelter program for three to four months, a length of stay which has increased with the current shortage of available housing. Meanwhile, adults receive case management services, including learning how to budget and save. About 14 people can stay in the shelter program at once, usually about three families.

In May 2020, Family Promise launched a diversion program for local families on the cusp of falling into homelessness, helping them pay for a security deposit or resolve issues with a landlord.

Having a vehicle is necessary to travel between the different host sites, so Family Promise has been forced to refer families without a car to other resources. Some of the toughest choices that struggling families face are related to transportation – like trying to decide whether to pay to fix a broken car to get to work or to pay the rent.

Obtaining childcare is another challenge that has persisted during the pandemic.

“It’s a very difficult life to navigate when you don’t have good living wages and you don’t have a place to house your family,” MaLossi Kerbyson said. “There are people living with their families in cars, in the middle of winter. And that’s not okay.”

Many single moms face discrimination from landlords, MaLossi Kerbyson said. Renters with Section 8 vouchers can struggle to overcome the stigma that accompanies a voucher, particularly when very few rentals are available.

Once a family becomes homeless, new problems arise. When a family enters a homeless shelter, their SNAP benefits, or food stamps, are automatically reduced, Case Manager Andrea Lucien said.

Understanding the eligibility criteria for various forms of assistance and filling out complex forms can be daunting, particularly for a parent or grandparent taxed for time and already under a lot of stress.

“I’ve sat for hours and done applications for people,” Lucien said. She held her thumb and forefinger about two inches apart. “One housing application for income-based housing is this thick.”

Family Promise stays in touch with program graduates and Lucien said that she loves hearing from people who call to talk about their recent wins.

“It’s good to hear things that you’ve done and worked your butt off for,” Lucien said. “Because you see the struggle, and trying to help them through the struggle isn’t always easy.”

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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