TIFTON — A local group is seeking to offer a program to help Tifton families in need.

Dave Hetzel, a member of the Homeless Coalition, said a subcommittee of the organization has been working to address the issue of homelessness, particularly women.

He explained in Tift County, there was no program to address homelessness, so they started the coalition, and Greg Millette, former executive director of the local United Way of South Central Georgia Inc., orchestrated that effort. They met on a monthly basis and in the fall of 2013, they also held a resource fair. They held another resource fair the following year, attracting more people.

Hetzel said as they kicked around ideas, they had representation from the Veterans Administration at the state level and the Department of Community Affairs at the state level. He said they recognize that local organization Brother Charlie’s Rescue Center is a good program for homeless men and that for battered women and their children, there is a local shelter. However, there is no local shelter for homeless women who haven't been battered. Those women have to travel to Albany or Valdosta.

"Our feeling is that if you're a Tifton resident and you have kids in school in Tift County, you shouldn't have to go somewhere else to try to get your life together, because you're disrupting it more," Hetzel said, noting the next step was figuring out how they were going to face this issue.

He said in early December, Martine Hill with Christian Women's Job Corps sent out a letter to members of the coalition, asking if anyone was interested in siting down and talking about how they can provide a women's shelter in Tifton.

Hetzel said this led to them networking with friends throughout the state and identifying programs that may or may not work in Tifton. He said one of the most important players at their first meeting was deacon Leeann Culbreath of St. Anne's Episcopal Church. He said she discovered through someone in her faith who lives in Effingham County that they have a program called Family Promise, which provides a place to stay, food and necessary services for a family to get back on their feet.

The requirement is that it has to be a family unit, including kids, that is ready to get their life together. A maximum of 14 people total are allowed in the program at one time.

Hetzel said Family Promise has been around since 1988 and their headquarters is in Summit, N.J. He said they have chapters in 188 communities. He added they're in 41 of the 50 states and in the District of Columbia.

Family Promise has developed a religious community-based approach to offering caring assistance to homeless families. There are currently more than 160,000 people volunteering in 6,000 congregations throughout the country with Family Promise affiliates.

The Family Promise program of providing shelter, meals and support for homeless families is easily developed because it relies on existing community resources — houses of worship for overnight lodging, congregations for volunteers, social service agencies for screening and referrals and existing organizations for day facilities.

Hetzel further explained the families will be transported in a 15-passenger van from a host church to the day center, which they have not determined yet. He noted typically in the church Sunday school building, the Sunday school rooms are only used Sunday morning. He said they make ideal bedrooms for a family. On Sunday evening, the families' belongings are moved into a different church. Host churches will provide a place to stay and three meals a day. The churches will rotate weekly.

Hetzel said Warner Robins has a Family Promise program, which he and some others visited.

"We know the program works," he said.

He said Family Promise did a background check on Tifton and wants to offer the program here. They have scheduled their first community meeting for this Sunday.

Claas Ehlers, executive director of Family Promise, will be in the Tifton area at 2 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church, located at 107 12th St. W., for an open meeting to present information about Family Promise and to show how a Family Promise affiliate would enable volunteers to help homeless families in the community.

Hetzel and other committee members urge the community to attend this very important meeting.

For more information, call 388-1000.

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