Utah Methodist church steps up to help homeless get back on their feet

November 12, 2014
Trinity UMC in Kearns partners with Family Promise of Salt Lake to house four homeless families a week

Note: This story appeared Nov. 9, 2014 in the Desert News, a publication in Utah

Above: Elizabeth and her grandmother look over their new room at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Kearns on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014. The rooms are for homeless people as part of the Family Promise program. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Story by Majaorie Cortez, Deseret News

KEARNS — Many members of Trinity United Methodist Church know what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck.

During the economic downturn, more than a third of the church's members were unemployed, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Rob Bruendl. Now, about a half are underemployed, and the rest of the church's members are seniors on fixed incomes, Bruendl said.

Still, the church embraced the opportunity of becoming a host church for Family Promise of Salt Lake, a nonprofit organization that, through a network of churches, houses, feeds and nurtures homeless families.

On Sunday, clergy, church members and representatives of Family Promise joined in a dedication ceremony to bless the remodeled space that will be used to house four homeless families for one week on a rotating basis with a dozen other congregations through Family Promise. Those churches' efforts are supported by 14 other diverse faith communities from Copperton to Park City.

Tonya Woolsey, missions coordinator for Trinity United Methodist Church, said becoming a host church enables the church to fulfill its mission to care for people outside its congregation and to "spread the good news of Christ.

"Even though our church is small and not fancy in any shape or form, we still have a lot of love to offer them," Woolsey said.

Susan and her granddaughter Elizabeth, who did not provide their last names, are among the first families who will stay at Trinity United Methodist Church. Last week, the family was hosted by First United Methodist Church in dowtown Salt Lake City.

Each of the church volunteers she has met "has been super, super kind," Susan said.

"They're very friendly, and you're not just like another face. They come up to you, shake your hand, welcome you and ask your name. Every volunteer has done that."

The Kearns church, which ordinarily hosts its annual harvest feast later in November, moved up the date of the event to coincide with the opening of its new housing. The first supper at Trinity will be a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, Bruendl said.

Tony Milner, executive director of Family Promise, said the addition of a host church helps extend the reach of the nonprofit's work.

"It’s a tiny, humble little church. I can’t say thanks enough. It’s all due to their pastor, Pastor Rob, who has had the fire from day one when he came in to get Family Promise going.

"He recognized the value of serving families in need and but also to having the congregation being exposed to the issue of homelessness and poverty and then turning around and doing direct, hands-on service," Milner said.

Bruendl said serving as a host church made sense on many levels.

"We have this amazing facility that just needed some tender loving care so that fit so well. When I got here 4 ½ years ago, it's just been my dream to pull it into a host church."

Becoming part of Family Promise's host network also presented an opportunity for Trinity members "to get outside ourselves," Bruendl said.

"Churches are wonderful if they take care of themselves, but really, we're here to take care of people outside the church," he said.

Host church members volunteers prepare dinners and share the meals with guests. Volunteers stay overnight in the church to offer any assistance the families need. In the morning, volunteers prepare breakfast for the families before they go to work, school or seek case management at Family Promise's day center in Salt Lake. The day center offers help seeking jobs, permanent housing and other supports.

According to Family Promise's most recent annual report, the interfaith alliance served 131 people in the past fiscal year, who made up 33 families. The average length of stay was 46 days in the sheltering network and 94 percent of Family Promise clients transitioned into housing.

Laurie Robinson, shelter and housing manager for Family Promise, said volunteers are asked to meet their guests "where they're at."

"Treat this as though this your home and you have a guest in your home. How would you treat them and their children?"

Susan, who said she is homeless because it is unsafe for her to remain in her home, said she found Family Promise through United Way of Salt Lake's 211 referral service.

"It's absolutely safe here," she said. "I'm very grateful to have this place."

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