Helping homeless families in Grant County Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
lancaster homeless
Fr. Jim Murphy, pastor, and Beth Connolly, parish coordinator for the Family Promise program, are pictured in the upstairs of the rectory at St. Thomas Parish in Montfort, which is being used as an overnight facility for families experiencing homelessness. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

LANCASTER -- During the 2015-2016 school year, almost 150 students were identified as experiencing homelessness in Grant County. This does not take into account children who are not in school, so the numbers could be higher.

A national organization that helps families who experience homelessness recently arrived in Grant County in an attempt to “Shelter the Homeless.”

Family Promise works with families to tailor individualized plans to help them take the necessary steps toward lasting independence.

In Grant County, Family Promise has 11 host sites -- made up of churches of different faiths -- that house the families. Each site rotates as the overnight site every week, and St. Clement Parish in Lancaster serves as the day facility.

Providing a home

One of the overnight sites is at St. Thomas Parish in Monfort. After being contacted to be part of the efforts more than a year ago, the parish decided to use the upstairs of the rectory as its overnight facility for families experiencing homelessness.

At the start of a week, the guests arrive in the evening on Sunday, are fed dinner provided by parish volunteers, and then have the rest of the evening to spend as a family.

Pastor Fr. Jim Murphy calls it a “blessing and an opportunity to tend to Jesus’ needs.”

Father Murphy himself has served as an overnight volunteer to be on hand just in case an issue arises.

“Hopefully it’s calm and boring and no great excitement,” said Father Murphy.

“We have fantastic volunteers and it’s been such a blessing,” said parish coordinator Beth Connolly.

The volunteer support comes from both St. Thomas and SS. Anthony and Philip Parish in Highland, which are linked.

Volunteers do anything from make meals and eat with the guests, clean up, do laundry, or stay overnight in the rectory. Children also help the younger guests with their homework or play games with them.

“These are not folks that have all the time in the world, but they make the time for it,” said Connolly.

“It’s great to see the Church attending to that need and responding,” said Father Murphy.

The whole Montfort community has been supportive -- non-parishioners have been making meals or volunteering and the village even gave the families passes to the nearby pool during the summer.

Helping families

The home base of Family Promise is at St. Clement Parish in Lancaster. The convent, no longer in use, was converted to the day facility for families in the program.

After the kids are taken to school -- in their home district, as per federal law -- the parents come to the day center, where they later leave for medical appointments, get help with searching for jobs and housing, and also have access to a washer and dryer, kitchen area, and living room area. They return to the overnight site in the evening.

“We try to be a community-based response,” said Family Promise of Grant County Executive Director Hannah Campbell Gustafson. “We work with local faith communities to provide shelter, food, and intensive case management for families experiencing homelessness in the area.”

Campbell Gustafson said she strives to “connect families to resources that already exist in the county.” The other part of her work is “helping people be seen so that we can make changes as a wider community.”

She also meets with families throughout the day, including one weekly meeting where they talk about their goals and connections they’ll make.

“Our goal is to help people reach sustainable independence,” said Campbell Gustafson. “It isn’t our goal to get someone into a housing situation that isn’t going to last. Families can stay in the program as long as they’re working the program, as long as they’re continuing to work on their goals and following the rules.”

The program is currently helping its sixth family since it officially started in the county in March -- five have since moved on from the program. It can help up to four families at one time.

Two families are considered “graduates” of the program, that is, being able to sustain themselves. One of them was in the program for five weeks, the other for five months. “Both families worked really hard while they were here,” said Campbell Gustafson.

The program is funded by community grants, individual donations, and fundraisers. It does not receive any federal grant money.

For information on how your church can volunteer with Family Promise of Grant County, go to

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