The plight of homelessness is not limited to big cities. It happens in Grant County — and more often than people realize.
During the 2014–15 school year, 26 Platteville Public Schools children and 32 children in the Boscobel School District were identified as homeless. Since these 58 youth represent only two Grant County communities, the number of homeless children countywide is likely to be much higher.
The number of people who are homeless in rural communities is often more difficult to estimate since those who are homeless are not usually visible sleeping on the street. Instead, those lacking a permanent roof over their heads are often sleeping on friends’ or family members’ couches or floors. Family members may be separated and shuffled around to various relatives who have extra space. They might sleep in cars or try to stay warm in flimsy campers. Some families may take up residence in old farmhouses that lack proper heat, insulation and basic safety.
The difficulties of trying to be hired for a job under such conditions are unimaginable.
Mariah Doll, a 2015 graduate of Lancaster High School, found homelessness in Grant County unacceptable and wanted to do something to help. Last spring, as a project for her Gold Award in the Girl Scout Badgerland Council, she coordinated the assembly and decoration of 200 small cardboard collection boxes called “Houses for Change.”
The houses were distributed to businesses in the area to gather donations for Family Promise of Grant County, a newly formed non-profit organization committed to helping local homeless children and families achieve lasting independence. Through Family Promise, congregations, social service organizations and volunteers in the county are working together to meet this mission.
The facts about homelessness were familiar to Mariah, the daughter of Beverly Doll, an active member of the Grant County Task Force on Homelessness and family living agent at Grant County UW–Extension in Lancaster. Mariah suspected that other local youth did not know about it, however. She made it her goal to increase their awareness by involving 70 students in the CCD classes at St. Clement Parish to hear presentations and help decorate the “Houses for Change” donation boxes.
“I wanted them to not be so naïve about the problem and to feel they could do something to help,” she said. “It seemed like the kids knew about homelessness in bigger cities, but not here. Some of them seemed surprised to know that a kid like themselves could actually be without a place to live around here.”
Family Promise of Grant County is planning on being open later this year to begin providing comprehensive support services that will enable homeless families to achieve lasting independence. Once Family Promise of Grant County is open, host congregations throughout Grant County will provide overnight lodging, breakfast, brown bag lunch, dinner and hospitality for homeless families during a given week. Support congregations and organizations will provide hosts with assistance, as needed.
In addition, Family Promise of Grant County will have a Day Center at St. Clement Catholic Church Convent in Lancaster, where homeless families will be able to gather during the day to search for housing and jobs, shower, do laundry, tend smaller children and receive essential support services.
“The Day Center is the central focus of everything Family Promise hopes to be,” said Rev. Zayna Thompson, Pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Platteville and Mount Zion United Church of Christ in Cornelia.
Thompson spearheaded the effort to establish an affiliate of the national organization, Family Promise, in Grant County. She has been working for the past year with Rev. Michael Short, pastor of First English Lutheran Church in Platteville, and numerous other pastors and volunteers throughout Grant County to get the program off the ground.
“The Day Center will be a place of rest and resources, of coming together at a consistent place to have access to Internet and computers, showers and laundry, and to receive essential support services on a daily basis,” said Thompson.
To view a short video about the Day Center, go to https://youtu.be/TN-wxx8TkaA.
“Having a place to live during that period – while they are looking for a job – is important,” said Mariah Doll. “We want to help the parents of children to get jobs so they can eventually support their families.”
The students had a compassionate response to Mariah’s presentations. “A lot of them want to help at the Day Center when it opens,” she said. “They can do things like make supper, fundraise, and spend time with the kids who stay there.”
Family Promise of Grant County has received tax-exempt status and appointed a board of directors. Applications are now being accepted for the position of a full-time director whose office will be at the Day Center. The director’s duties will range from fundraising to casework, working with families in the program to help them rise from poverty and find jobs and housing.
“Let’s keep families together and do it in a way that is not a Band-Aid, but helps move them from homelessness to permanent housing in a short amount of time,” said Bill Manthe, pastoral associate at St. Clement.
Thus far, Family Promise volunteers have raised more than $60,000 and are working toward raising a total of $90,000 to move the program forward. The organization has received grants from the Platteville Community Fund, the United Way of Platteville and the Alliant Energy Foundation.
“Volunteers are the heart of the program,” said Thompson. “We are so thankful for the support we have received thus far and hope that others will be inspired to help those who are so desperately in need.”
To date, 11 congregations have volunteered to serve as Family Promise hosts — Faith Lutheran Church in Cuba City, Lancaster United Methodist Church, St. Clement in Lancaster, St. Thomas Catholic Church in Montfort, Community Evangelical Free Church in Platteville, First Congregational United Church of Christ in Platteville, First English Lutheran Church in Platteville, Lutheran Church of Peace in Platteville, Platteville United Methodist Church, St. Mary Catholic Church in Platteville, and St. Peter Lutheran Church in Fennimore.
Other churches have committed to provide support to the hosts — Mount Zion United Church of Christ in Cornelia, Cuba City Lioness Club, Assembly of God Church in Platteville, Bread of Life Church in Platteville, Hidden Valley Church in Platteville, Rolling Hills Church in Platteville, St. Augustine University Parish in Platteville, and Davies Memorial United Church of Christ in Potosi. Additional congregations and organizations are welcome to join as hosts or supports.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Thompson, (630) 596-6105 or email@example.com, or Short, 348-3022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a donation to help homeless families rise from poverty and homelessness, send a check to Family Promise of Grant County, Inc., P.O. Box 639, Platteville, WI, or go to www.gofundme.com/FamilyPromiseGrant.
“Whatever amount people give, whether it be a large sum or a small sum,” said Manthe, “it all adds up.”