BY LURAH LOWERY | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series about the United Way of Bristol, the agencies it funds and the people they help. The organization is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. For more information, go to www.unitedwaybristol.org or call 423-968-4912.
BRISTOL, Va. — Most people don’t become homeless overnight, but what does a family do when that’s exactly what happens?
That was the case for the Lane family and they had no idea where to go or what to do. They were racked with daily worry of where they would sleep at night.
After losing their home, the family of four slept in a U-Haul with all their belongings.
“While it’s happening, there’s nothing you can do to stop it,” said Amanda Lane. “It’s like a freight train coming at you and all you can do is try to jump out of the way or lay down on the tracks.”
The family had several costly medical bills and only one income. Her husband, Teddy, wasn’t working because someone had to stay home with their special needs son since they could not find a local school that provided a special needs class. The couple made several phone calls to local shelters for help, but all wanted to split the family up.
“We didn’t want to do that because we felt like everything was slipping out from under us so that was all we had was each other,” she said.
Then they found out about Family Promise of Bristol — a program that helps homeless families get back on their feet.
The Bristol location that opened in 2012 is part of a national program that has 186 affiliates across the country. The program provides food, a place to sleep, bathe, to do laundry, and to relax. Transportation to work and school is also provided.“The growing population of homelessness in the family unit is due to job loss, and a lot of folks are unable to pay for housing,” said Sharon Hicks, Family Promise director. “We don’t have enough affordable housing out there. There’s housing out there, but some of that housing is way too expensive for someone who is making minimum wage or barely above. That’s the struggle that a lot of our families face.”
She said the program is one of only a few that provides long-term help that allows families time to get everything in order before they leave so they don’t end up back in the same situation.
Program volunteers provide families guidance in budgeting money, setting goals and outcomes, and in weekly planning.
“It’s hard to get everything in order and to figure out what you need to do, where’s your starting point when you’re under that kind of stress?” Amanda Lane said. “It’s a really big help to have somebody that has their head together … and can say, ‘This is how we’re going to get from point A to point B.’”
The Lane family was in the program from November 2013 to April of this year.
“They received a lot of help with volunteers, but they really touched the hearts and lives of many of the volunteers too, myself included,” Hicks said. “I know we’ll be lifelong friends.”
During the six months that the family was in the program, Teddy Lane found a full-time job, which he still holds, and they were able to save money, pay off debt, buy two used cars, and find an apartment they could afford. They were also able to find a school that offered a special needs class for their youngest son.
And Amanda Lane will join the Family Promise Board of Directors in January.
“She really wants to give back. …We felt like it was very crucial to have a family member that went through the program to be on our board to help us move forward with this ministry so we’re really excited,” Hicks said. “She’s really given us a lot of insight.”
She visits the program’s day center to talk to families that are currently in the program and to offer a positive outlook.
“We are a hand up, not a handout,” Hicks said. “We don’t give our folks money or do anything like that, but we’re giving them a safe place to sleep and to eat. We’re giving the structure that they need to get back out on their own.”The success rate for Family Promise nationally is 78 percent. The Bristol’s is 84 percent.
The program is one of United Way’s 28 funded agencies and also receives funding from local churches, grants, and individual donations.
“It was really a godsend,” Amanda Lane said. “I don’t know what we would have done. …While we were in the program it gave us the stability to do the things we needed to do to get back on our feet. … I don’t know if you can imagine trying to do all that and bouncing around from hotel to hotel or from house to house or sleep in your car. It would’ve been nearly impossible. It would have made it a lot harder.”
The experience, she said, showed her and her husband that there are still people who care about others.
She added that she’s vowed that she and her family will never again find themselves homeless and at rock bottom.
“One lady said to me, ‘I’ve heard people say when you hit rock bottom there’s nowhere you can go but up’ and she said, ‘You can go side to side,’” Amanda Lane said. “That’s what you feel like when you get to that point. … It’s hard going from the bottom and clawing your way back up. It’s really hard to do, but I’m glad we did it. I’m one of those people that feels everything happens for a reason. … I feel like it made our family stronger and we’re better people for it.”
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