Hotel-style apartments may replace pews, but the space inside McEver Road United Methodist Church could still serve as a sanctuary of sorts.
Instead of worshippers filling the room, homeless residents getting services to help them back on their feet may find a temporary home.
Family Promise of Hall County could learn this week whether it can move forward with plans to convert the church at 3606 McEver Road into a new campus, The Homestead, and offer services to more families.
Family Promise, which began in 2012, provides short-term and transitional housing for homeless families while providing financial help, parenting and job skills classes.
Currently, three families are served through the ministry.
But Executive Director Lindsey McCamy said she believes there’s a definite demand to serve more families, as the agency now has to “turn away about 40 a month.”
“We don’t do a waiting list. That’s such a hard thing to do when (clients) are homeless. We just say, ‘Keep calling us,’” she said.
Alex Allens is a former resident who said she is excited by the campus’ potential.
An exorbitant rent increase forced her and her daughter from their apartment and onto the streets, where they lived in Allens’ car for several months in 2016. She graduated from Family Promise’s program in 2018 and is now in permanent housing.
“All the programs they have in place saved my life and changed me,” she said. “It was like all these things that were broken within me, they provided a class that fixed that. And it was so simple — I just believed.”
The 10,000-square-foot church where Family Promise hopes to relocate has two distinct wings. One part of the building features the sanctuary, offices and downstairs rooms. The other part houses a large kitchen and fellowship hall.
McCamy said the sanctuary side would continue to feature offices, with the apartments split between the sanctuary and downstairs space. Community bathrooms would serve the apartments.
“It’s not meant to be home. It will be the shorter-term housing,” McCamy said. “We have some thoughts for longer-term housing.”
Short-term typically means 90-120 days so that families can “complete our program and move into private housing of their choice,” states Family Promise’s application with Hall County.
Hall County Board of Commissioners
What: Rezoning proposal to allow homeless ministry Family Promise of Hall County to create campus
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10
Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
The church-supported ministry is seeking a rezoning to enable the project, with a vote set for Thursday, Oct. 10, before the Hall County Board of Commissioners. The Hall County Planning Commission recommended approval of the project on Sept. 16.
“The overall size of the property would allow us to have flexibility in the future to possibly expand our goal into providing more bedrooms and/or private and independent units on the property,” the application states.
The campus would effectively end the nonprofit group’s current practice of rotating the housing and care of families among 12 churches. The churches could stay involved, however, through volunteer work on the campus, McCamy said.
“We’re still hoping the churches (help) with meals two or three nights a week,” she said.
The fellowship hall side of the church would serve as Family Promise’s day care center. Classrooms, bathrooms and a commercial kitchen are now in place.
Family Promise now offers Little Steps Community Daycare, a free, temporary child care option for families referred by community agencies.
“Combining all of our services into one location will allow families to participate in more interrelated activities, such as helping in our day care facility,” according to Family Promise.
McCamy wants to serve more people with the day care, too.
“Our goal is to become licensed and take kids free, kids on a sliding (scale) and serve all people,” McCamy said.
To help pay for the campus, Family Promise has $1.1 million in “gifts and pledges,” she said, noting they’ll continue to fundraise.
The plan is to close on the property in mid-November.
“We’ll move in as soon as we close,” McCamy said.
The goal is to complete renovations for the housing, including installing a sprinkler system, by the end of 2020.
“We are pumped about them being here,” said the Rev. Rob Bruce, McEver Road UMC’s pastor.
Plans call for the church to rent back from Family Promise for one year, giving it time to find a permanent home.
“We know we’re going to be roommates for a while, and we’re going to work that out as we go along,” Bruce said. “We don’t anticipate any problems at all.”
When the sanctuary is under renovation, the church’s plan is to use the fellowship hall.
“We already worship in there for our contemporary service,” Bruce said.
The church has found some potential property. He didn’t give many details, as talks are underway.
“But I can say … it’s more property than we need,” Bruce said. “What we’re trying to do is find somebody else to come in with us that would want part of the property.”