Shockingly, more than 2800 Davidson County public school families consider themselves "homeless." Unfortunately, this figure is likely understated; it includes only the children of families that have actually reported their status to Metro Schools.
In an effort to help these families find stability and self-sufficiency, Catholic Charities of Tennessee initiated its Family Empowerment program in September 2015, in partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools and Safe Haven Family Shelter. Key funding was provided through a United Way of Metropolitan Nashville grant and the Diocese of Nashville.
Gelila Feyisa is one of three case managers that work under the guidance of program coordinator Matt Preston. Her job, simply put, is to assist families who are at risk for becoming homeless or have already fallen into homelessness.
"Many times families are living in apartments with extended family members where there is not enough room to accommodate all the occupants," she explained. "This can create a very tense family life when combined with a lack of financial resources, such as enough food to feed everyone on a daily basis."
"Families come in all shapes and sizes," Feyisa continued. "They are working with a variety of issues that can keep them from prospering. My job is to remove barriers and help them find success in providing for their families."
Feyisa works with families referred by Metro Public Schools and helps connect them with a broad array of services dealing with specific poverty-supporting issues. Counseling, housing, employment, transportation, health care, and basic necessities are areas typically addressed by a family desiring to move toward self-sufficiency.
Recently, a client (we will call her Jane) met with Feyisa to discuss possible assistance. She was a single mother of a teenage daughter. Jane's lack of adequate, reliable transportation made it extremely difficult to maintain full-time employment, so Jane struggled to support her small family. They were temporarily living with Jane's sister, but the arrangement was putting a strain on both families.
Jane and Feyisa began to piece together a plan. First, they found solutions to allow Jane to manage full-time work. To help her get to work, Jane received bus passes for transportation. Finally, Jane was encouraged to pursue child support.
With increased income available for Jane and her daughter and community partner programs available to assist with deposits and partial month's rent, Jane found affordable housing for she and her daughter. She also signed up to attend financial literacy classes at an area Financial Empowerment Center.
A big step came when Jane and her daughter were welcomed into a Support Circle. (Support Circles allow community members to circle around Jane and her daughter to provide mentoring encouragement and suggestions for maintaining life on their own.) Jane is also eligible to receive up to two years of case management support from Catholic Charities.
"Helping families move out of homelessness can be challenging; so many factors come into play that have brought them to this point," concluded Family Empowerment case manager Gelila Feyisa.
"It is incredibly rewarding to work with these families desperately wanting to take care of their children, spouses and other family members, and provide them with a good life."
Time and again, the research is proven, she said. "They can make huge progress with encouragement and guidance delivered compassionately."
Click here for more stories from the spring 2015 issue of Pathways, the newsletter of Catholic Charities of Tennessee.