Topic: Families

The Little Food Club That Could April 15, 2014 at 09:05AM

The We Care Food Club and Food Pantry
by Laura Olmstead

Food and Housing Program Director

We Care has been going strong for over 35 years. What an incredible testimony that is. We started small years ago, before I ever heard of this place. Over the years we have expanded in order to do all we can to better serve this community. We purchase semi truckloads of food, as often as we can, to try and provide a little food store/club to our people at a rate they can afford and to offset the incredible costs of the food bag program. We try so very hard to search and provide quality items for each of you. We have been providing supplemental emergency food bags since the early 80's. For nearly 900 families each month we prepare, search and shop to provide the most we can through our supplemental and assistance programs.

We are thankful for our long relationship with Second Harvest Food Bank in Chattanooga, Feed America program that enables us to continually serve. It is truly a blessing to know we are able to help so many. We love working with other agencies and churches to form partnerships to meet the needs of our neighbors. We welcome all to come visit and see what we do at the We Care Food Club and Pantry. We would love to share our stories.

Employed but still homeless, working poor say 'Homelessness can happen to anybody' July 19, 2013 at 11:53AM

By Jessica Hopper, Tim Sandler and Cristina Boado
Rock Center, NBC News

Before the sun rises, Cindy and Patrick Kennard wake their three daughters, fold their cots in a Sunday school classroom and pack their lives into suitcases. The Kennard family of five from Johnson City, Tenn., is homeless. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Kennards is that despite their homelessness, they are still a working family.  For the last seven years, Patrick Kennard has worked a full-time job with benefits at a bank call center and until recently, Cindy Kennard worked as a director of a daycare facility. The Kennards are one of a growing number of working families who have become homeless. In the wake of the recession, experts say that families like the Kennards represent a historic juncture when it comes to homelessness in America. 

“It’s hard sometimes for people to appreciate. They’re so used to the stereotyped homeless populations, the visible homeless, if you will, who live outdoors in public locations and they’re not aware that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people, many of them working, who are homeless as well,” said Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania social policy professor whose research focuses on homelessness.

The number of people in homeless families living in suburban and rural areas rose nearly 60 percent during the depths of the Great Recession, according to figures from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than one million school-aged children are now homeless, according to the Department of Education.  

For Patrick Kennard, the feeling that he’s failed his three daughters, 9-year-old Jillian, 14-year-old Melodie and 16-year-old Brianne, sends him into despair. Cindy and Patrick Kennard, married 19 years, worked hard to pursue the American dream. They have college degrees. Both tried to build their savings as they worked. Their dream began to crumble when Patrick Kennard suffered kidney problems that led to expensive hospital stays and mounting medical bills. Even with the health insurance he had from work, the family still owed around $5,000. Their car broke down repeatedly, costing them more than $3,000.  The couple's debt began to mount. Combining their student loan debt and medical bills, they found themselves more than $35,000 in debt. Unable to afford child care, Cindy Kennard was forced to quit her job leaving them with only her husband's income, around $35,000 a year. The family was living paycheck to paycheck and still did not have enough to cover their monthly expenses.  They became behind on their rent.  They downsized to a cramped two-bedroom apartment from their more spacious four-bedroom apartment. Again, they were unable to afford rent and were evicted. The youngest Kennard, 9-year-old Jillian, took the eviction news especially hard. “I was scared because I loved the house and I didn’t want to leave it,” she said. The Kennards pondered living in their van or at a campground. They made heart-breaking decisions, including pawning their wedding rings for $100.

For Cindy and Patrick Kennard’s daughters, being homeless means living a life of uncertainty and sometimes shame. Through tears, 16-year-old Brianne described the hardest part about being a homeless kid: hoping no one finds out. Brianne has told a few of her close friends who have kept her secret. She was willing to speak publicly about it for the first time because she wants to help other kids like her. Nine-year-old Jillian also feared telling classmates about her family’s struggle.

The family has moved 15 times in the last four months. Through a church and community program sheltering homeless families called the Interfaith Hospitality Network, the family rotates to a different Sunday school classroom each week. “I had the stereotypical man holding up the sign, ‘Will work for food, have family, need help’ and I never realized how close I was to being that person,” Patrick Kennard said.  “Homelessness can happen to anybody.  We’re proof of that.”

Brian Rosecrance runs the Interfaith Hospitality Network’s chapter in Johnson City, Tenn., that’s been helping the Kennards as they find their financial footing. He said he has seen a distinct change in the families seeking help. “In the past three, four years, we’ve seen higher-educated people.  We’ve seen people who are currently employed coming to us.  We’ve seen a lot of families with job layoff situations where they were laid off a month or two ago and now they’re homeless,” Rosecrance said. Rosecrance said his waiting list of families needing help continues to grow. Part of what makes the Interfaith Hospitality Network unique is that it allows families to stay together.

Advocates say there are not enough shelters for the nation’s new wave of homeless families and many shelters separate men and women because of security reasons. Shaun Donovan, the secretary of HUD, said that shelters must begin to use their funding differently to accommodate the rise in homeless families. He acknowledged that family-friendly shelters are under-funded. “I’m not satisfied that we have the full amount of resources that we need and we will continue to fight for more,” Donovan said. Donovan said he is working on an ambitious plan to reach families before they become homeless. “I absolutely believe and the president [President Barack Obama] has fought for greater investment in homelessness in making sure we have adequate shelter, but also in making sure we have new, innovative directions that we can go to prevent it,” Donovan said.