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September 2014


Churches sign on to help homeless

Nationwide affiliate forms in Lake Country

City of Oconomowoc - Plans by a grassroots organization to provide temporary housing for homeless children and their families are moving ahead and could be ready for operation by the end of the year.

The group, Family Promise of Western Waukesha County, is reaching out to local churches to act as hosts for up to 14 people on a rotating, weekly basis. Each church would provide three meals a day and fellowship to the guests, three to four times a year.

Plans for the affiliate sprang from efforts started by those involved in the former Oconomowoc Urgent Needs Fund, which was established in 2010 to help the homeless or those facing a housing crisis. The group has been meeting at the First Congregational UCC Church in Oconomowoc. To date, three churches have committed to hosting: Lake Country Unitarian in Hartland, Emanuel UCC in Dousman and Our Savior's Lutheran in Hartland.

"It's pretty exciting to have three churches signed on," said organizer Sue Konkel, who noted that three more are pending and several others have expressed interest .

"I want 13 churches," she said. "In addition to the ones that have signed on, we have some churches nearby them who want to support them."

This group is an affiliate of a national program, Family Promise, which has 178 affiliates in 41 states, using the services of more than 150,000 volunteers and 5,500 congregations.

Organizers discovered that with some affiliates, the host churches provide the shelter, and the support church provides the meals and companionship.

Last summer, the group determined there were about 60 homeless children in western Waukesha County.

According to information from the program, 50 percent of homeless children are preschool age, therefore not included in the numbers provided by local school districts.

In order to get a more realistic number of homeless children, it was recommended that the number given by the school districts is doubled, bringing the number of homeless children to 60. Mukwonago had the highest number, followed by Oconomowoc, but all school districts reported homeless children. Progress at the local level has been seen in other areas as well.

With its nonprofit status established, the organization is ready to go out to talk with groups to help grow support for the program and accept tax-deductible donations.

"One of the things that has been exciting and challenging is there's so much interest," Konkel said.

"People want information and want us to come talk about it," she said.

Next week, representatives from the national organization will come to help the organization learn how to recruit a board of directors.

In addition, the new affiliate is working on a website that will provide information about its efforts.

"We're ready to go live with our website,, on Jan. 14," Konkel said.

"Everything will be on the website including a calendar of events," she added.

Konkel said that some of the early success of the start-up affiliate is the cohesiveness of the group.

"We have a really good leadership group. We're making decisions by consensus. It's a very functional group and I am pleased by that," Konkel said, noting that a Family Promise regional director observed the same thing and noted that the group functions with "no drama."

"If I could have interviewed and hand-picked them, I couldn't have chosen better. They are so talented and enthusiastic. I'm really excited.

"This is going to be a top-of-the line affiliate; nothing less would be sustained in Waukesha County," she added.

The affiliate will also secure a day center where a social worker will provide case-management services. It will offer adults a place where they can pursue employment, tend to preschool children, shower and do laundry. It provides a mailing address and a base for housing and employment searches.

In addition, a transportation committee is exploring options to obtain a van that would move the bedding from one host congregation to the other and also would take members to the day center.

Nationally, Family Promise has a 77.5 percent success rate and an average stay of two months.

Organizers are optimistic they will be able to offer shelter come December.

"We wanted to be open before the weather got bad. That is a very ambitious goal, but so far we are on time. If everything keeps moving like it is, we could be open in December (2013).

"When we get our eight churches signed on, I will breathe a huge sigh of relief. That will mean we're up and running. I'm holding on to that marker until then, but I never thought we'd have this many by the end of the year," Konkel said.

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