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Family Promise Interfaith Network works against homelessness


Jesus was homeless.

Now, churches are working together to help the homeless.

"We're striving to break the cycle of homelessness," said Bruce Webster, executive director of Family Promise Interfaith Network, an association of 12 host churches and 10 support churches supplying food, shelter and guidance.

Just as a journey begins with the first step, so does Family Promise, providing transitional homes for four families. Working with local agencies, families are sheltered, fed, clothed and counseled on how to become self-sufficient.

Each week a different host church leads in helping their homeless families find employment, housing and guidance.

In the first five months of this year, Family Promise has provided 1,108 nights of shelter to the homeless, and 588 of the people helped were children.

"I've lived the American dream," said Bill Pretyka, a full-time volunteer for Family Promise. "Now it's young kids with kids. It's sad. But they all want a job. No job. No money. No home."

Pretyka gives his time and talents nurturing new friends. But he's no pushover and  enforces a zero tolerance toward alcohol and drugs.

We all desire our private space, a refuge from the storm that is a safe haven for our loved ones.

Thanks to the Rev. Jim Rosenberg, pastor of Trinity Methodist Church, three families will no longer be homeless. Every Saturday, Rosenberg and an army of volunteers work on restoring four homes they own to be used for homeless families. When completed, as many as four families will have a transitional home.

"We are renovating homes that will be ideal for families," said Marty Williams, the pastor's assistant at Trinity Methodist Church. "We want to help to break the cycle of homelessness."

In Florida, there are 50,000 homeless children, one of the nation's highest rates. According to a study by the National Center on Family Homelessness, 42 percent are younger than 6 years old.

In just five years, the number of children that are homeless has increased 30 percent, to about 1 million in the U.S., according to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

Having homeless children in the world's most prosperous country is a stain on America's image. What can be done to prevent homeless families from sleeping in their cars, in the streets or at local aid agencies? In the Manatee County School system there are 2,075 children who are homeless.

"I'm a big supporter of what Family Promise is doing," said Adell Erozer, dxecutive director of the Manatee County Community Coalition on Homelessness, the agency receiving and coordinating state and federal money. "What Family Promise is doing is excellent. Those lucky people who can get in the program might not have survived, but now will become independent because of their program."

The major cause of homelessness is unemployment. Manatee County's unemployment rate is 10.7 percent. For the first three months of 2009, there were 4,419 homeless individuals in Manatee County.

"I love the challenge that I face each day," Erozer said. "It's so tragic to witness the stress of mental illness, divorces, drugs and foster care that are wasting so much talent. But we hope to replicate what Family Promise is doing, by providing homes to the homeless."

On Oct. 1, Manatee County will receive more than $653,000 in stimulus funds to help with homeless prevention.

Want to help? Call Webster of Family Promise at 748-4740.


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