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Nonprofit helps families find a way home

Family Promise helps parents find work, housing in Hall while keeping them together

POSTED: July 27, 2014 1:00 a.m.
NAT GURLEY/The Times

Two families eat Subway sandwiches Wednesday night at Family Promise. Volunteers Margie Couvillon, from left, and Katie Bruner look on. Couvillon bought the night's meal. The two families - Jessica Cornette, her partner, Glenn Adkins, and their son, Caden Lejeune; and Tameka Williams and her five children - are receiving assistance from the nonprofit.

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Jessica Cornette returned to a nondescript-looking house off Thompson Bridge Road with some news. The 28-year-old pregnant woman learned she is having a girl, a welcome addition to her family of three.

“It’s exciting,” said her partner, Glenn Adkins, during an interview at the Family Promise of Hall County Day Center. “We just found out today.”

The couple’s 5-year-old son, Caden Lejeune, was at the YMCA day camp when his parents discovered their newest addition will be a girl. She is set to arrive in 4 1/2 months.

However, the young family is different from your typical family of three: Cornette, Adkins and Caden are homeless.

The trio were living with Adkins’ mother and stepfather. But when the older pair divorced this year, the young family found themselves without a place to live.

“They sold the house,” Cornette said. “We had five days left.”

Their situation worsened when Adkins’ stepfather laid him off, a side effect of the marital collapse.

Realizing they were not financially ready to live on their own, Cornette and Adkins began calling homeless shelters.

Then the couple encountered another stumbling block: Most homeless shelters separate women and men, don’t allow male children older than a certain age or don’t allow men at all.

“We called everywhere, and they were like ‘We don’t take families,’” Cornette said. “They don’t take husbands and wives.”

Cornette, Adkins and Caden, however, found solace when they called Family Promise of Hall County.

Starting a mission

Family Promise of Hall County opened its doors in 2012. The local branch is one affiliate of the national organization, which dedicates itself to helping homeless children and their parents find jobs, permanent residences and stability.

Executive Director Lindsey McCamy was inspired to launch Family Promise in Hall County after an experience with the organization’s Whitfield County branch.

McCamy and her family delivered a Thanksgiving meal to the homeless at a local church in 2010. She met a father with a 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old.

“The mom had walked out, and he was raising the kids,” McCamy said. “And just to see that dad and how hard that would be, I felt like God was saying ‘There’s nothing for the family.’”

Therefore, McCamy orchestrated the launch of Family Promise of Hall County. She recognized the need for a homeless shelter that keeps family units together.

Now, Family Promise of Hall County accepts up to 14 individuals for every 90-day session, typically amounting to three to four families of all sizes.

A network of volunteers and churches provides Family Promise with a place for its homeless families to sleep at night.

Family Promise also offers financial, nutritional, psychological and job counseling to the families, who complete the classes on a timetable determined by a case worker. Adkins and Cornette are taking parenting classes and meeting with a credit counselor.

Filling a purpose

Family Promise, by default in some cases, is a support system for families. Tameka Williams uses Family Promise for just that purpose.

The 28-year-old single mother knows what it means to experience homelessness and not have any family support. The mother of five children ranging in ages from 1 to 8 years old returned to her home state of Georgia following a tragedy.

“I had a great life, then my fiancé had a stroke,” the child care worker said. “We were living in Florida when it happened. I came back here to be closer to family, but that didn’t really work out, so here I am.”

Family Promise has filled that gap for Williams.

“A lot of our families do not have any support,”

McCamy said. “No family, none, and they’re young and they don’t have anybody to model those things. We try to offer all the education of life skills we can.”

And while parents take advantage of classes or search for jobs, their children spend their days at the YMCA. After work, the parents and their children return to the day center for a typical family affair.

Kids can be seen reading “Thomas the Train” books and playing Wii bowling. Arguments among the children arise about whose turn it is. Brothers and sisters fight over the same collection of “Elmo” stories. It’s the kind of evening all children, homeless or not, can expect with their family.

“I feel like there is a misconception of what (homelessness) looks like,” McCamy said. “When you go through here, it looks like us.”

Families spend the night at one of 11 churches in the Hall-Gainesville area. Volunteers prepare food, places to sleep and fellowship with them.

“They make you comfortable. It’s very positive,” Cornette said. “I’m pregnant so I get hungry, and I’m like ‘Is it OK if I get up in the middle of the night and go get something to eat?’ They’re like ‘Yes, yes!’ (The churches are) just very welcoming, very sweet and accepting.”

Kay Gore, the volunteer coordinator at Lakewood Baptist Church, believes the volunteers benefit just as much as the families.

“We definitely believe in this ministry and believe in the people that run it,” Gore said.

Lakewood will host Family Promise from July 27 to Aug. 3.

“What a blessing — I’m more served than they are, to be candid,” Gore said.

Hunting for housing

Churches also provide families another opportunity to get back on their feet: networking with potential employers. McCamy said families frequently find employment through Family Promise volunteers.

“I could’ve had several jobs already through the churches, but they wanted us to accomplish a few other goals first, like (Cornette’s prenatal) care and enrolling Caden in school,” Adkins said.

It may seem like finding a job is the biggest hurdle for needy families, but McCamy begs to differ. She estimates 95 percent of her families leave with steady employment. Finding the families permanent homes in Hall County is the obstacle.

“We need housing,” McCamy said. “It’s a big, big problem. Not jobs, but just a house. I have a family right now that’s ready. They’ve been working, and we cannot get into any housing.”

McCamy typically tries to get her families into government housing or local, low-cost apartment complexes, but lately the task has become more difficult. The waitlist for government housing stands at six to nine months. McCamy also has started to encounter resistance from the low-cost apartment complexes on which she previously relied. Thanks to the rising costs of housing in general, many low-cost apartments and rental homes are becoming unaffordable.

“Currently, there are 58 (rental) houses on the market in Hall County,” said Tommy Howard, a broker with the Norton Agency and president of the Hall County Board of Realtors. “There’s more than that by owner, individuals who do it themselves. Those prices range from as low as $650 and go all the way to $15,000 a month.”

Howard places the average rental cost for a home in Hall County at around $1,100 a month. In June, the average cost to buy a house in the Hall County area was $234,000.

“When you make $7.25 (an hour) and you’re a mom of five kids, (you) can’t afford $860,” McCamy said. “We need to be more in the $400 range.”

Landlords generally recommend tenants spend no more than one-third of their income on rent. But for families with both parents working full-time, minimum-wage jobs, the average monthly rent of $1,100 amounts to about half of the monthly wages. For single parents with a similar job, the average cost of rent amounts to a staggering 95 percent of their paycheck.

When one factors in other costs of living, the economic reality is more of a nightmare.

McCamy’s “dream situation” for her families is the agreement Family Promise has with Flowery Branch United Methodist Church. The nonprofit and church have a multiyear arrangement to pay the taxes and upkeep of a Flowery Branch home families can use as transitional housing. It is a place to stay while the parents save money for the costs of a permanent residence — if they can find one, McCamy said.

While the search for a permanent residence, not a job, may be the bigger struggle, the families of Family Promise of Hall County will continue to be served invaluably by the community and volunteers.

“It’s the only place where families can be together,” Adkins said.



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