Amidst the pandemic, we started getting calls, lots of calls, from community leaders, persons experiencing homelessness, and the general public:
• “We have a single, older adult male who has been living in our store’s parking lot for weeks now. We found out he’s using the store’s bathroom to bath. Can you do a phone conference call with us and provide him immediate housing?”
• “We’ve an 18-year-old with no place to stay and graduates in a couple months. Can you provide shelter until matriculation?”
• “We’re a couple who happens to be gay. We are in urgent need of safe housing.”
• “I’m an over 60-year-old female who has lived on the streets of Delaware for years due to a felony. Can you take me in?”
• We are pregnant with no housing ….
• We are a very large family with no housing …
• My house burned down. I’m 77 and no one can help me find a home …
• We are a family of four, both of us parents have serious disabilities and feel like we’ve lived through a lot of racism. Can we stay with you?
• I’m a single dad, my son has seizures and I’m in a wheelchair.
• Our building got sold and our rent is almost doubling.
Staff and board collectively made a bold move in faith to look at how we described and accepted “family.” Previously, we, like many family shelters, responded to calls at Promise House stating, “We serve adults with children.”
Now we say, “We serve families of one to families of many.” We do believe you can be a single person and have a sense of being a one-person family unit. Even more, we now offer a sense of belonging and connection to a big sense of Family Promise Family.
Recently, a trustee said, “Just when I thought I had ‘family’ figured out. Then you got me with this pandemic request that seemed to me to be right at the heart of my faith’s teachings. I couldn’t deny it. I’m a believer in how we are approaching this. Especially in these times.”
Ironically, this morning, I was part of a Mennonite theological dialogue on Ephesians 3 and “recognizing family as a whole on heaven and on earth.” In my bones, I’ve had a feeling, that the intensity of these “COVID times” experiences has put us in even closer to beloved family and a true sense of divine purpose. Raised amidst Berne, Indiana kin, I have been around the “shunning” practice of Amish (and others) and know the power of being an insider or outsider. Accessing housing and stabilization in neighborhood and community can create a culture of the most authentic transformation via acceptedness. There’s life as an insider with access in contrast to the culture of diminishment or shrivling in the culture of the outsider or the shunned.
We divert families from shelter and the stigma of homelessness whenever possible, referring to regional resources and beyond whenever possible. Even in the process of sending people away from us, we do try to hear, see, and connect with a sense of family.
Walking each other home, accompanying one another out of isolation into community and belonging. Some would say family is the deepest bond of all. Stopping exclusion from access to family services traditionally saved for adults with children is making us intergenerational and a promised whole, as intended to be.
Gwyn Stetler is a community minister and executive director at Family Promise of Delaware County.