IHN: Families Move On

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On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 3, a white cargo trailer will be towed around Covenant’s circular driveway and brought to rest next to Eaton Hall. Inside will be what amounts to all the earthly possessions of three families who have been left temporarily homeless and found refuge in the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN).

Over the next seven days, family members will eat and sleep in Eaton Hall. Covenant volunteers will bring meals and offer friendship, companionship and supervision in the evenings and early mornings. It will be the first hosting week this year for Covenant, one of 15 churches and synagogues participating in the IHN network. Covenant has participated since it began in 1993.

During the days, the families will be bused by the sponsoring Foundation for the Homeless to pursue whatever they need to live independently again—usually a job, often a vehicle, sometimes training or ID cards, or other forms of assistance. Daycare is provided for children. All return each evening.

The three families currently in the network are a single mom with four kids ages 12, 8, 5 and 4; a married couple with three kids ages 13, 9 and 4; and a single dad with a 7-year-old child. By the time they get to Covenant, most of them probably will have spent weeks at First United Methodist, St. Matthew’s Episcopal, Hope Presbyterian, Congregation Beth Israel and St. Ignatius Catholic.

A family’s average stay in the network is 8 to 12 weeks. Since 15 churches make up the network, these families have a different, temporary church home nearly every week. Either a single catastrophe or a combination of factors left each in need of help. It’s difficult for Covenant volunteers to track their families once they leave, but we do know about two of them—the Thomases and the Kennedys.

This video from the Foundation For the Homeless website shows the testimony of Darryl Thomas, who brought his wife, Alexia, and five children for help during spring 2012. A combination of medical bills and the 10 percent unemployment rate during the Great Recession left them homeless. Years later, the family is thriving, and Darryl has started a program for at-risk youths called “Size of a Man.”

“My message to the IHN is, first and foremost, thank you,” he said. “You stepped up and helped in amazing ways. We wouldn’t be where we are today if not for your help. We are a family of faith, and we truly believe the Lord allows us to face certain obstacles, only to bring the best out of us.”

The Thomases returned to independent living in May 2012. How do we know? Movin’ and Groovin’ delivered what was cryptically described on an old run sheet as “a trailer full” of furniture to their apartment on Dessau Road on May 3.

Darryl is an honorably discharged Marine, as is Stacey Kennedy, who entered the program in 2010. She was injured prior to her discharge, then battled additional medical issues plus abusive relationships with the fathers of her two children. She lived with friends and relatives before ending up on the streets in Austin in 2010.

Her life began to turn around when she called the 211 help line, was connected to the Foundation and accepted into IHN. The Foundation also nominated her for the Statesman’s Season for Caring program that Christmas, and she was accepted. Ever thankful for all the help she received, Stacey went on to volunteer periodically with the Foundation.

“I’ve been there, so I try to encourage people,” she told a Statesman reporter doing a follow-up story on Season for Caring recipients in 2011. “For me, being homeless was not a negative thing. It helped me slow down. I stopped running around in circles. I was able to think about a plan of action to better my life.”

Andrew Bucknall, IHN director and a Foundation employee, helps individual IHN churches develop volunteers. “The power of faith and hope can start with a cry for help and an answer from a stranger waiting to become a friend,” he said. “Please answer the call for help and volunteer for the Interfaith Hospitality Network.”