Family Promise Nonprofit helped Jacksonville become homeless for 15 years

Shelton Carmen-Owens had long wanted to move to Florida from his home state of Wisconsin.

After a series of conflicts with his estranged wife, the 35-year-old and his 3-year-old son moved to Jacksonville in November 2020. They arrived early in the morning and drove to the beach to see the sunrise.

Then Carmen-Owens, who was homeless as a child, used Google to find help. He had left his life behind and needed a place to live, a place to work and a place to take care of his son.

“I knew I needed help,” he said.

Immediately, he found Family Promise of Jacksonville, a nonprofit that helps homeless families support themselves, and made his way to their downtown office. Six months later – after a combined effort by Family Promise and other nonprofit partners – he got a job at VyStar Credit Union, a two-bedroom apartment and childcare facility nearby.

More:The Collective Donation group makes nearly $ 600,000 in grants to nonprofits in the Jacksonville area, including Family Promise

This collaboration has become a trademark of Family Promise, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Since 2010 it has looked after 277 families with 901 people, consisting of 363 adults and 538 children. This is done with the help of 42 community partners who, among other things, offer childcare, education courses, personnel development, furniture, clothing, medical care, cleaning and hygiene products.

“Community partners are critical,” said director Mark Landschoot. “By working together, we can concentrate on our areas of expertise. This is more cost-effective and more effective.”

One of these partners is City Rescue Mission, an emergency shelter in downtown Jacksonville.

“We worked together to help families in need like Shelton and his son,” said Starletha Cherry, ambulance manager for the rescue mission. “Family Promise understands that it takes a village to help people re-establish, overcome, and move forward after a life-interrupting event.”

Leading the way

The local subsidiary of a national organization, Family Promise, and its church partners provide temporary protection while the case managers focus on permanent housing, work readiness and employment, and other family needs such as medical care, childcare, clothing and furniture.

Landschoot joined in 2008 after working in educational sales. He and his wife were volunteer coordinators in their church, which was a host ward with family promises.

“I liked their mission and the holistic approach to working with homeless families,” he said.

When the first chief executive of the nonprofit asked if he was interested in applying for her position, he accepted and went to work building the nonprofit. It was founded in 2006 with a part-time employee. Today there are five employees, including three full-time employees, and about 835 volunteers in any given year.

The family pledge has survived for 15 years despite the economic downturn and pandemic, thanks to the staff, volunteers and donors, Landschoot said.

“It is very humbling to lead people with such committed people,” he said. ā€œIt’s about helping people get back to where they were before they became homeless. I have a deep passion for ensuring that children don’t sleep in their parents ‘cars, hotels, or on their parents’ streets.

“Volunteers create strong connections,” he said, “and donors realize that while we are small, we are very powerful. In most years, about 80 percent of families are moving.” [permanent] Casing.”

When Landschoot came on board, there were nine churches changing as family guests, and by 2020 there were 17. In 2010, the average term of protection for a Family Promise customer was 105 days. It was 55 days until 2020.

“I feel like God has given me this position as the administrator of an organization that can have a positive impact on our church,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure that people have all the resources they need to carry out our mission.”

More:Overall, homelessness is still falling in the Jacksonville area, but the effects of COVID-19 are unknown

Volunteer Kathy Nipper joined Family Promise after the nonprofit gave a presentation to her church’s mission team, Ortega United Methodist. At the time, Church outreach was “more handouts than handouts,” she said.

“Some of us really felt called to bring this amazing program into our church,” she said. “Now we have many, many hands of all ages three to four times a year preparing and serving meals, doing laundry, hugging children and even rolling out sleeping bags.

She is her church’s Family Promise Coordinator and has served on the nonprofit board of directors.

“I’ve worked with remarkable and very dedicated visionaries,” said Nipper. “People who, through their hard work and constant prayers, have enabled Family Promise to be there for families who need a hand up.”

The experience was also “a blessing for me personally,” she said.

The story of one particular family – and their 5-year-old son Jake – still resonates. When the family got to the shelter of their church, the boy was “very unsure of what was going on in his life – scared, tearful, clinging to his teddy bear,” said Nipper. ā€œFor the next few days I never saw him without this bear. Then I walked past his family’s room in the middle of the week and noticed that the bear was neatly and securely tucked into Jake’s bed.

“The Family Promise was a safe, loving home for Jake and his bear at Ortega Church,” she said.

Give chances

Regina Knighton-Miller is the agency’s family support program manager. She met Carmen-Owens and his son after their first sunrise in Jacksonville.

“Shelton and his son had just arrived in Florida that morning when I noticed they were sleeping in the church parking lot where our office is,” she said. “Shelton had rented a U-Haul and had all of his things in it.”

The Family Promise Host Church Shelter was full, so Knighton-Miller referred the father and son to the City Rescue Mission in downtown Jacksonville for temporary housing. Cherry, who worked with Carmen-Owens on the mission, said she was “thrilled” with his result.

“His son was adopted by the entire CRM team and we all looked forward to seeing him after school every day and asking how his day was,” she said. “I applaud him as a great example to other young men who are single fathers.”

Five months after arriving in Jacksonville with no shelter, Shelton Carmen-Owens and his 3-year-old son moved into their own apartment.

Family Promise’s Knighton-Miller also enlisted another partner, Catholic Charities Jacksonville, which provides emergency financial aid, human resource development, food aid, immigrant legal advice, refugee resettlement, and care for people with intellectual and developmental differences.

In Shelton’s case, employment was the primary need. He had professional skills and experience, an equivalency degree and references. But other obstacles had to be overcome in order for him to work, said Tamilla Shareef Dow, program coordinator for the Catholic charities’ staff development program.

“At the time, the challenge for Shelton in finding employment was a lack of stable housing and childcare for his 3-year-old son, no transportation, and no immediate access to a computer to apply for jobs,” she said .

Family Promise was concerned with permanent housing and childcare issues, so Catholic charities looked into finding a job for Carmen-Owens.

“Our team helped evaluate our program, filled out a new rĆ©sumĆ© and cover letter for him, and provided bus passes and interview clothes,” she said. You conducted an interview with VyStar Credit Union that Carmen-Owens was “thrilled” with, she said.

More:With the purchase of Georgia Bank, Jacksonville’s VyStar has reach to Atlanta, Central Florida

He now works in the facilities department at VyStar.

“Shelton was very motivated to find employment,” said Dow. As a single father, “he was pretty even at the time. I was very impressed … I think Shelton’s success was a direct response to his motivation. Seeing him build a life for him and his son here in Jacksonville has been great for me.” brought joy. “

The couple moved into their own apartment about a month ago.

“It’s great. I have my own room,” said Carmen-Owens.

He said he was grateful for all of the people who helped him and his son, starting with Knighton-Miller finding them in the Family Promise parking lot.

To this day, she is “my son’s favorite person in Jacksonville,” he said.

“I was given an opportunity,” he said. “I definitely appreciate everything that everyone has done for me, for us.”

[email protected], (904) 359-4109

Comments are closed.