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Updated: Oct 20

October 15-22 is Family Promise Week. This annual celebration occurs in October to coincide with Karen Olson starting the organization in 1986 in New Jersey. First begun as the Interfaith Hospitality Network, Family Promise has served over 1 million individuals and 187,000 families over the past 37 years. In Waukesha County we have been serving families since 2014. To raise awareness of our work and to answer some frequently asked questions, Joe Nettesheim will share with you ten common questions he often hears about Family Promise of Waukesha County and his answers.

1. What are the programs currently offered by Family Promise of Waukesha County?

Our services include Prevention, Shelter, Diversion and Stabilization. Prevention is providing financial assistance to help families maintain their homes. Two shelter programs provide families a place to stay if they are experiencing homelessness. Stabilization is designed to help families who have left shelter maintain their new housing. Diversion focuses on keeping families out of the shelter system and seeks an alternative to shelter.

2. What are your shelter programs?

In November 2020 we started the Apartment Shelter Program we now utilized five apartments as shelter. This is a non-congregate, meaning not a communal setting, scattered site model. Through Families can use the apartment for up to ninety days. This program has worked well because the apartments remove the stigma of homelessness. Using an apartment provides independence, encourages responsibility and prepares a family for self-sufficiency. Most importantly having an apartment affirms the dignity of each person.

The Community Shelter is a pilot program. We lease the facility owned by the Housing Action Coalition and used for the Winter Emergency Oveflow. It had been vacant from April to October so we worked out an agreement to lease the facility. We were able to provide shelter to five additional families in this space. A communal shelter, families have their own suite which includes a bedroom and bathroom. They have a shared lounge, kitchen and laundry areas.

We provided shelter to 13 families from April to October. This shelter program will end October 27. Plans for 2024 are being discussed.

3. Are volunteers still involved?

Yes! Volunteers provide and serve meals for families in the community shelter. We also utilize volunteers as drivers, light maintenance, painting, sorting supplies, help with mailings and some administrative work. There are a variety of ways for volunteers to get involved.

We are currently looking to renew our fund development and program committees. The Board of Trustees is also a great group with whom to get involved.

Our experience of the rotational model is evidence that volunteers impact in the lives of families experiencing homelessness. It has been difficult to recreate that environment but there is no doubt the volunteers are needed, appreciated and make an impact. Ensuring that volunteer opportunities align with the needs of families is our guiding principal.

4. Will you return to the rotational model of shelter?

It is not likely. One insight we have focused on is that every family that comes to Family Promise of Waukesha County has experienced trauma. Losing one's home is traumatic. It undermines an individuals stability. Homelessness is an experience of of uncertainty , chaos and disarray. The rotational model asks families to change their "home" every week. As we attempt to help people heal from the trauma of homelessness we are concerned that the rotational model can reinforce that trauma.

Secondly, we are not certain that we have enough congregations able to host families. To move forward we would need a minimum of thirteen congregations able to host families four times a year utilizing 35-40 volunteers each week. Out of 200 affiliates across the country only 40 have been able to return to this model.

5. Do you provide shelter to families who have a criminal record?

We do, however it does depend on the offense. Serving children means that we will not serve anyone who is on the sex offender registry or has a recent or open violent crime. Our task is to create a safe and stable environment for families. Yet we also know that having a criminal records has often been an obstacle ton housing and employment. We strive to find a balance between safety and giving people a second chance.

6. What is the biggest challenge facing families experiencing homelessness?

The simple answer is helping people find new housing once they are homeless. The reasons are complex. Some issues that contribute to this are lack of affordable housing, wages that do not meet the cost of living, especially for single income families and attitudes toward those who are in poverty. The demand for apartments is so high that many landlords will not consider families with previous evictions, lower credit scores or unable to verify that their income is three times more the monthly rent. Keep in mind a recent study showed that 43% of rentrers in Waukesha County are considered cost burdened. Many of the families we serve have paid close to 50% of their income on rent.

7. What has been your greatest joy?

Watching the growth of families as they make a plan for their lives. Of course seeing them move into their home is amazing, but the process achieving housing includes learning resiliency, increasing self-esteem, overcoming barriers, developing life skills. The response of most families is to become resilient and courageous. Sometimes it is unfathomable to think of all the setbacks that families have to confront, but everyday we see them overcome some obstacles.

8. What has been your greatest sadness?

That families experience homelessness. In my opinion, homelessness is a collective or community failure. Too often we have rules, ordinances, policies, and laws that actually punish people for being poor. An example of this was keeping an eviction on someone’s record for twenty years. That can be a sentence to chronic homelessness. It is also exacerbated by a not in my backyard attitude. We should never forget that families experiencing homelessness are human beings who are having a difficult time.

While stating it is a collective failure might sound harsh it also means that there are solutions if every aspect of our society works together. Ending homelessness is not an issue of resources. It is about the will of society to use those resources to support those in need.

9. How has the organization managed the growth and change over the past few years?

It has been exhilarating, scary and challenging. We have seen growth in every aspect of Family Promise. The number of clients served, expenses, income, staffing, volunteers- all have increased since the end of the pandemic. It is unfortunate that this growth has been needed. There is much more economic hardship than in November 2019.

I am so proud that our staff, board, donors and volunteers have been focused on responding to the current need. It is an honor to be a part of this organization and the overall commitment to solutuons.

The growth has also been scary. Will we have enough resources/ What is the right decision? Sometimes there are not clear answers and by no means have we made all the right decisions. Credit and recognition needs to go to staff, past and present board members, volunteers, and donors. 2024 is our tenth year, all those involved in starting this organization need to be commended for creating a grassroots, community based agency that is committed to adapting to the needs of the community. We would not be here without them!

10. What is next for Family Promise?

Our immediate tasks are to bring the Community Shelter to a close ensuring that each family has an exit plan to housing. We are making progress! Next, we are making plans to manage the Emergency Overflow Shelter in partnership with Hebron Housing Services. For clarity this is a new program for us, even though it is in the same building as the Community Shelter.

Secondly, we continue to work on increasing funding. We will run a deficit budget in 2023. This was part of the plan to open the Community Shelter, but we do not like it! Nor is it sustainable. Our end of the year campaign is important so please consider a generous gift and share information about the campaign.

Finally, we need to assess our programs. There has been a lot of change over the past three years so we need to assess what has worked, what needs improvement and what we should discontinue. Our hope is to be able to offer additional shelter that engages community volunteers year round. We have not found an answer to that issue, yet.

Thank you for reading. Please share your comments in the comment section. Do you have a question for Joe about Family Promise of Waukesha County? You can reach out to him via email: or SMS: 262-278-4868.

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