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A Promise to help the homeless

Homelessness: Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley plans to help growing number of local families

Posted: February 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.

In the diagram, the outer circles represent the 13 local host congregations that will provide housing, showers and meals to a homeless family one week per quarter. The inner circles are for the nine host congregations that will help with funding, food and other necessary supplies. Family Promise of SCV hopes to officially launch in April as the ...

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More than 800 homeless kids attended a Santa Clarita Valley junior high or high school in the last year.

It’s a number that’s been on the rise, and it’s one of the reasons Larry and Terry Comp decided to form a Family Promise chapter here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Family Promise is a national nonprofit organization founded more than 20 years ago with a simple goal of helping homeless families.

The faith-based group, originally named Inter-Hospitality Network because of its unique way of operating, now has chapters in more than 41 states. It has helped nearly 350,000 people nationwide.

Larry and Terry Comp hope the Santa Clarita Valley is next.

Suburban homelessness

Larry Comp was approached in spring 2009 by a representative from Family Promise who wanted to start a chapter in the Santa Clarita Valley. Larry attended the meeting as a fill-in for his pastor, who was tied up with another meeting.

After hearing the facts about the number of homeless kids, he felt a need to act.

“Kids shouldn’t be homeless,” Comp said. “I don’t think anyone should be homeless. But it’s really about the kids.”

Comp said he was shocked by the statistics of homelessness in such an “awesome” community as Santa Clarita.
Having volunteered for years, he knew homeless shelters don’t take families with kids.

The SCV Emergency Winter Shelter houses families in a motel because minors are not allowed to stay at the county-run shelter.

Comp took the information back to his pastor, John Shaver of Valencia United Methodist Church, and told him about the meeting.

“This is something the church needs to do,” Shaver recalled.

Shaver had been involved with Family Promise at his previous congregation in Pennsylvania and enjoyed the experience of helping families in need.

“I saw families be able to get themselves back on their feet with the faith community helping in that way,” Shaver said.
“I felt God was calling us to reach out to the homeless in our community and show love to them during the worst times of their lives.”

Comp and Shaver recognized that homelessness is a growing problem in the Santa Clarita Valley and believe it’s not being addressed due to a lack of awareness in the community.

The problem is compounded by the recent mortgage crisis and continued home foreclosures.

“Most people think these are folks living in boxes down in inner cities,” Shaver said. “The homeless (individual) within suburbia looks a little different and gets overlooked in the midst of the malls and restaurants around us.”

Proven program
The core idea of Family Promise is to bring together many bodies of faith to work together as a support network for homeless families. Thirteen local congregations have already agreed to be host churches, with nine others acting as support congregations.

The plan consists of each congregation hosting families for one week in a quarter. The host congregations provide a place for the families to sleep and offer showers and meals while the support congregations assist with funding, food and other necessary supplies.

Families are given transportation to school for the kids. Parents are taken each day to a resource center where they receive additional help with job hunting, credit counseling and eventually transitional or permanent housing.

The program, which typically has a 60-day cycle for each family, has an average 80 percent effectiveness rate nationwide, according to Family Promise.

“Family Promise fills an important need to take care of intact families,” Terry Comp said. “We are doing what we feel we need to do (for homeless families) in a loving, unconditional type of way.”

Family Promise of Santa Clarita hopes to officially open its doors to local homeless families by mid-April. Until then, organizers are figuring out the final details before taking in the first families.

Network of faith
Valencia United Methodist was the first church to join as a host congregation, with many other Santa Clarita churches and synagogues following suit, including North Oaks Church of Christ, First Presbyterian Church of Newhall, Congregation Beth Shalom and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami had never heard of Family Promise, but when Larry Comp contacted him, he was excited about the opportunity.

“We feel it’s important to help families in need that are falling through the cracks,” Blazer said. “This has inspired churches and synagogues to work together like we haven’t done before.”

Real Life Church of Valencia also agreed to be a host congregation for Family Promise. Executive Outreach Pastor Brandon Beard feels Family Promise has a great vision and a proven plan to get families off the street.

“As followers of Jesus, we are called to serve the poor,” Beard said. “This isn’t about Real Life Church or any other church, but a bunch of local congregations working together with a great message: the churches of Santa Clarita are here to serve you.”

Beard shared the congregation’s excitement to be a part of the program and desire to invest in the local community.

“There is no better way to share the truth about Jesus than taking a step of kindness first,” he said.

“This is (part of) our faith,” Terry Comp said. “Love God, love your neighbor; it expresses who we are as a people of faith.”

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