You might have heard about the sharing economy when it comes to rides — Uber, for instance — or vacation rentals such as Airbnb. Now, underused space in churches is also being pooled to help the housing insecure in Bucks County.
Starting the first weekend in April, a network of churches will start providing year-round, temporary shelter for families experiencing homelessness through a new program run by Family Promise of Lower Bucks. The county’s winter emergency shelter system, called Code Blue shelters, already operates on a similar model.
“Most of the activities for congregations take place on the weekends,” said Lisa Kulan, the organization’s board president, allowing vacant rooms to be used as temporary sleeping quarters.
The model is borrowed from national affiliate Family Promise, based in Summit, New Jersey. A rotating crew of “host” congregations will provide night shelter for participating families. During the day, families can go to a “day center” run by Family Promise of Lower Bucks, providing showers, day care and a stable mailing address for families. A full-time executive director, supported by Family Promise volunteers, will provide counseling and other case management for the three or four families staying in the shelter at any given time.
Families who call the County’s Housing Link Hotline will be evaluated for their most crucial support needs, and if Family Promise is a good fit, will be referred to the new shelter.
At any given time, four or five families in Bucks County languish on the wait list for existing shelter beds, according to Roger Collins, director of housing and community development for the county.
“The fact is that the need is almost always greater than our current resources,” he said. “If you add the resources for three or four more families, that’s big.”
According to the most recent point-in-time count, 215 kids under 18 were living in transitional housing, shelters or sleeping outside.
Collins said the county has been refining its approach to supporting families in tenuous living situations over the last couple of years. When Housing Link started two years ago, there were more referrals to shelters, he said.
Now, attention is focusing more on preventing homelessness in the first place.
“It almost always is never literally that somebody doesn’t have a place to stay tonight,” said Collins.
Instead, it might be a question of paying rent versus another bill, or finding transitional housing for someone sleeping on friends’ couches.