It is difficult to encapsulate the work of Family Promise.
Its mission statement explains it best; “Family Promise of Morris County is a non-sectarian, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending the crisis of homelessness faced by Morris County families by partnering with other public and private agencies, religious congregations and community volunteers to provide shelter, case management and mentoring services leading to self-sufficiency.”
One of the main ways that Family Promise has served the homeless community in Morris County has been through its interfaith network. More than 70 area congregations open their homes of worship on a rotating basis, to provide temporary food and shelter for those without housing. Many volunteers throughout the county make this Emergency Shelter and food available to those in need.
The new Our Promise drop in center does not provide nighttime shelter, but is meeting many other pressing needs for the homeless community in Morristown.
“We have two main focuses at the center,” said Joann Bjornson, executive director of Family Promise Morris County “providing for basic needs and case management.”
When people who are not living in a homeless situation think of basic needs, there are many things that may not come to mind. Bjornson noted how important access to bathrooms and hygiene items are for those living without safe housing.
“Even just the dignity and respect of being able to have access to clean, safe restrooms,” she said. “And things like underwear, socks and feminine hygiene items.”
Bjornson mentioned that the homeless population often doesn’t have access to laundry facilities either.
“Their socks get wet and they have no way to wash them, so instead of carrying around dirty socks, they throw them away.”
In order to help people clean and maintain their belongings, the drop in shelter provides laundry cards.
There are so many other things that people may not identify as needs such as rain ponchos, sunscreen, deodorant, lip balm and lotions.
“When you think about it, if you are spending most of your time outside, you need sunscreen.”
It is also important that during hot or cold weather, people have access to the centers heating/cooling station, just to be able to get out of the elements.
Try to imagine living life without a home to provide shelter and a safe place for taking care of general health and hygiene issues. Any woman who has been camping during her period can understand the difficulty of feminine hygiene issues without access to running water and toilets. Even the costs of hygiene products can be prohibitive.
Meeting these kinds of basic human needs and respecting the dignity of the homeless population is a large part of what the drop in center has to offer.
The second part of the mission is case management. This is the opportunity to work with clients and understand their current situation and how it is affecting them. It also means finding services that they are eligible for and connecting them up with agencies or organizations that can meet these needs.
Things like providing a legal address for people, so they can send and receive correspondence and payments. They also have access to telephones, computers and a knowledgeable clinical staff that can not only listen to their story, but also connect them up with other organizations that can help.
“People say that they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and hard work, but that isn’t enough anymore” points out Bjornson. “Minimum wage jobs are often the most physically exhausting, but how do you get to the next level? You are living in poverty, how do you even imagine that?
Minimum wage jobs used to be enough to make ends meet, when someone could get a room for $100 a week but now it’s $600-$800 a month for a room in Morris county. That isn’t doable on a minimum wage job.”
If someone gets sick, then forget it. They will never be able to catch up. That is why education is needed, so people can have access to higher paying jobs which would enable them to afford housing.
Some people may see a homeless person with a cell phone and think that if they can’t afford housing they shouldn’t have a cell phone. Once again, if someone imagines himself living without safe housing, the need for a cell phone becomes instantly apparent. It is also nearly impossible to secure employment without a phone number. The drop in center provides charging stations for cell phones as well.
Family Promise is also working with local health care professionals to provide health care options.
“People can use the ER for their medical care,” says Bjornson. “They have no time for prevention; there is no time for that, so it’s more reactive.”
Helping people find avenues of care before there is a crisis can keep them out of the ER.
When the center first opened in July, it was having mostly clients picking up their mail and leaving. About 10-15 people a day dropped in, but didn’t really take advantage of the services being offered. Now, there are between 25-45 people a day with about 125 unduplicated clients a week, with many people staying to use the center, and speak with the staff and volunteers.
“The clinical staff is really helping people,” reflects Bjornson.
The mission of Our Promise is not completely set as Family Promise continues to figure out what the actual needs are and how to best address them. For 2016, the center is considering the needs of people released from prison and hospitals, and considering how they can help these people find their place in society.
The center is able to do all this through the use of government funding, and the charity of various business, organizations and individuals. They have trained staff on site as well as the valuable donations of their time by volunteers. They are currently looking for a volunteer to help at the drop in center.
Anyone interested in getting involved either as a volunteer or through donations can contact Our Promise at 973-644-0100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The drop in center is located at The First Baptist Church of Morristown and is open Mon. thru Fri. 1 p.m.-4:30 p.m.