As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the most famous homeless child in history, how many of us are willing to celebrate the lives of our less famous homeless neighbors? Family Promise of Ontario County and its hundreds of volunteers are willing, and we are transforming the community in the process.
Our interfaith hospitality network uses space in different congregations to provide a safe place for homeless families to lay their heads at night and volunteers to provide loving support.
One mom in our program was six months pregnant when we met. Before finding Family Promise, she spent two months in a motel, sleeping with a knife under her pillow to guard against the many threats of an unsafe environment. Fast-forward two months, and she is the guest of honor at a baby shower hosted by a local congregation and attended by a dozen people. Diapers, onesies, binkies and the clear sense that this little family belongs. They are part of this community, and the fact that they are homeless is less important than the fact that a baby will soon be here. It is a miracle of community welcoming a new life.
Last night, after picking up another mom from her job and returning her to her family at the host church, I walked into a scene I have witnessed often during our first three months of operation: a volunteer sitting with a guest and doing a jigsaw puzzle. At another table, four children were playing Uno with a couple of volunteers, one of was chagrined to discover she just received a Draw 4 card and surrounded by peals of laughter from the youngsters. We facilitate miracles — every day.
Homeless families, sadly, are used to being invisible and ignored in their communities. Family Promise sees them, and we respond with warmth, kindness, connection and safety. Trusting strangers to keep your family safe is a tall order, but our interfaith hospitality network does just that and we see the results. The words that frequently define homeless families — isolated, frightened and overwhelmed — are replaced by the only word that matters: beloved.
Poverty and its correlations of homelessness and hopelessness have dropped off the radar in our national conversations, replaced by headlines of conflict, divisiveness and disconnection. But quietly, in the background, your neighbors are ending family homelessness in our community with coordinated compassion.
So, as you hug your loved ones this holiday season, pause for a moment to remember those who many deem unlovable, undeserving and without worth. Remember what we were taught by the most famous homeless child in history. Remember that they, too, are beloved.
Bill Burns
Family Promise of Ontario County