Temperatures hovered in the 30s and steady rain showers started to fall after midnight on Saturday, Dec. 1.
Jane Bartlett had been sleeping in her car since 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, when she awoke at 3 a.m. feeling cold. The temperature continued to drop through the night and she was glad she had an extra blanket for her and her car mate.
By morning, the Kansas City North resident was on her way to her house, but for one night, she volunteered to sleep in her car to help raise awareness for the homeless population in the Northland.
“I don’t think this gives us any idea what it is like,” said Bartlett, one of about 30 people who spent the night in their cars, SUVs or minivans in the parking lot of Park Hill Christian Church, located at 6601 NW 72nd Street. “It is disturbing how many people are poor and hungry. It is a real issue.”
She represented New Song Church in Kansas City North in the event, while individuals from four other churches in the area had members take part in the first ever event hosted by the Family Promise of the Northland, which has a physical location in Clay County, but gets help from churches in Clay and Platte counties.
Other churchgoers that attended came from Liberty Christian Church, Grace Baptist, Hillside Christian Church and Parkville Presbyterian. The goal is to turn this into a yearly event to raise awareness for the homeless population north of the Missouri River.
The non-profit helps unemployed and underemployed homeless people in Clay and Platte counties with the goal of getting them back on their feet. Money raised from the event will go toward the general budget of Family Promise, which has a location at 4406 NE 45th Terrace in Kansas City North. The organization relies on help from 10 churches in the area to provide shelter for homeless families and donations to stay open. Of the annual budget, 80 percent from donations and the organization relies on volunteers to do 75 percent of the work.
In effort to help end homelessness in the area, the organization is asking for people to put quarters in empty pill bottles, which can hold about $10, and donate it Family Promise.
Family Promise of the Northland is looking to hire a new director as well as a part-time assistant. Currently the board is running the day-to-day operations, but many of those people are retired.
The event raised more than $3,100 — Bartlett helped raised $500 herself — and was the first of its kind in the Kansas City area for Family Promise.
“There are 1,000 homeless children in Platte and Clay counties,” said Rob Robinson, the host coordinator at Park Hill Christian Church. “We were looking for ideas to raise awareness. When you think homeless you think living under a bridge or in a cardboard box. Most of these families live in a car and the ‘family promise’ of Family Promise is to help and keep the family together.”
The local Family Promise chapter started in 2012 with a board and after two years it started officially thanks to buying a brick-and-mortar location off Interstate 35. The ‘Day Center’ was renovated to make space for three families for showers, laundry rooms and telephones. Workers at the facility also help with the families staying there by coaching them for interviews and resume work.
The ultimate goal is to turn a homeless story into a success story. Sometimes that happens, as the case with a couple who went through Family Promise, and now both have jobs and an apartment.
Other times vices such as drugs or alcohol derail happy endings, but to qualify for the program a drug test is required.
Family Promise can help three or four families at a time, up to 14 people, using the ‘Day Center’ as well as help from the 10 churches to house them at night. Robinson notes Park Hill Christian Church cycles through a family once every three months, but if three more churches would join Family Promise, it would be once every four months.
Families arrive at the church — for instance Park Hill Christian — at 5 p.m. Sunday night and stay one week there. He notes volunteers at the church cooks meals for the family each day and night and inflatable beds and lights are put in classrooms to provide a living space. A bus will pick up the family to go to school or work each morning, unless the family has transportation and if that is the case, Family Promise provides money to cover gas.
Families get a 12 or 13 week break from paying for rent or food and have a chance to save money to get a new place to live, one week at a time.
“After a week they go to another church that will show them compassion and not make them feel bad and help them get back on their feet,” Robinson said.
Family Promise of the Northland is a bit different than Hillcrest Platte County, which requires a person to have a job, but provides three months’ worth of shelter. The two organizations work together to help, the only difference is you don’t need a job to get help from Family Promise.
Most of the families that Robinson and his church have seen has came from referrals.
He noted the church members take an active interest in helping the families improve and get back on their feet. Robinson noted often he hears questions about how is ‘so-and-so’ doing after they moved on from Park Hill Christian Church.
“What I like about this whole process is that your 70 or 75 or 80 year old church members can bring a meal,” Robinson said. “They can’t build houses or work on their feet, but they can help. It gives a chance for the young people here to get to know the older people here.
“It is one thing to write a check and it is another to serve people and have a prayer with them.”
More information can be found at www.familypromisenorthland.org or on the organization’s Facebook page.