The new executive director of Family Promise of the Midlands wound her way through construction dust and partially erected walls earlier this week, as she explained her vision for families trying to emerge out of homelessness.
Here, amid former Sunday school rooms at Heyward Street United Methodist Church, a family Day Center will soon take shape that will include a comfortable living room, office area with computers for job seeking, shower facilities and small kitchen. Fourteen area congregations in Richland and Lexington counties will provide overnight accommodations for a small group of families on a weekly rotation.
“I’ve never supervised a renovation,” Kathleen McLean-Titus said, laughing, as she navigated a path through an area that will soon become office space for her and a part-time social worker. “I’m living out of my car and my house.”
But McLean-Titus, 59, has spent her professional career helping families, at the Lexington County Department of Social Services and the state Department of Social Services, including stints as the foster care state manager and the Chafee independent living state coordinator, helping young adults in foster care.
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She understands the circumstances that can plunge families into crisis and is anxious to get started helping people emerge from their predicaments. “You can spend years building up your credit and lose it in a second,” she said.
Following her retirement last November, McLean-Titus was asked to circulate the job description for someone to lead the fledging faith-based nonprofit.
“I looked at it and said, ‘I want this job.’ This is what God is calling me for.” She began Oct. 1.
On Nov. 9, Family Promise will host a launch celebration after raising more than $53,000 for the first year of operations.
By the first week of December, Family Promise and its host churches hope to have the first families enrolled in the program.
The program can accommodate up to 14 people at a time in a variety of family configurations.
These are not the chronically homeless who suffer drug, alcohol or psychological problems, officials said, but working families who because of a job loss or health issue find themselves in crisis and without a home. Those who apply or are referred to the program must pass a drug and alcohol screening and have no criminal record, McLean-Titus said.
It will be the seventh affiliate in South Carolina of the national Family Promise organization. Greenville has a thriving program and its director, the Rev. Tony McDade, was in Columbia this week training congregational volunteers who will provide shelter, meals and hospitality to the families.
Already, McLean-Titus said, school social workers and other agency caseworkers are preparing for the moment Family Promise opens its doors.
“The social workers are all on the start line waiting for the gun to go off,” McLean-Titus said.
That’s because families in crisis, especially those with older teenagers, have fewplaces to go.
“It fills a tremendous void when it comes to housing for families. I can’t wait for them to open,” said Deborah Boone, who works with homeless children and families daily as Richland 1’s McKinney-Vento coordinator.
Since the beginning of the school year in August, Boone said the district already has identified nearly 600 children who have been evicted from their homes or are at risk of eviction.
“I believe in what they are doing; it is a national model so we know it can work,” Boone said. “And I think the Day Center is going to be an essential element of it, because you can really work with the families and get some life skills.”
The Family Shelter on Two Notch Road is the only temporary emergency family shelter in Columbia. It accepts families with children ages 17 and younger who can live there for up to four months.
Family Promise of the Midlands will work in cooperation with St. Lawrence Place, a transitional housing ministry of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and Affordable Housing Resources, a Columbia nonprofit founded by Shandon Presbyterian Church, that currently rents four homes to low-income families.
The host congregations for Family Promise of the Midlands include Ashland United Methodist; Bethel United Methodist; Eastminster Presbyterian; Ebenezer Lutheran; Forest Lake Presbyterian; Northminster Presbyterian; Redeemer Lutheran; Seven Oaks Presbyterian; Shandon Presbyterian; St. John’s Episcopal; St. Martin’s in the Fields; St. Mary’s Episcopal; Trenholm Road United Methodist; and Trinity Presbyterian. The Rev. Jill Duffield, of Shandon Presbyterian, is chair of the Family Promise board.