Guest Columnist

Homeless families have special needs

People who fled fighting in South Sudan are seen walking at sunset on arrival at Bidi Bidi refugee camp, which is near the border in the Yumbe district, Uganda. (James Akena/Reuters)
People who fled fighting in South Sudan are seen walking at sunset on arrival at Bidi Bidi refugee camp, which is near the border in the Yumbe district, Uganda. (James Akena/Reuters)

This year, 2.5 million children and their parents are homeless, and one child out of six lives in poverty. That’s 35 percent of this country. The mission of Family Promise of Linn County is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through compassionate care, hospitality and professional support.

When a problematic case landed on my desk recently, I asked myself how the staff, board and volunteers would respond. Will they understand the unique opportunity assisting a group most people would struggle to support, or will the difficulty of the case weigh them down? The problem was whether to assist a refugee family that did not speak English. This could be difficult for everyone involved.

The faith community’s response was enormous in Linn County. Emails came in to find translators from the St. Paul United Methodist African National Program. Other phone calls were about their country of origin, so volunteers could prepare an authentic meal for the family. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church emailed possible African recipes volunteers could make that the family would like. Volunteers at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church downloaded the Google translate app to have conversations with the family.

The family timidly walked into St. Wenceslaus worried, but when the meal was set out for them and they saw an authentic Congolese dish. They smiled, and in broken English said, “Very good.” By Tuesday night the family entered St. Wenceslaus as if they had been there for years. They hugged every volunteer, laughed about their love of Coke and stated we were part of their family.

Family Promise and the churches turned a problematic case into a real example of compassion, help and caring in fewer than five days. It made us make a decision to help homeless families, local and new to this country. As an organization, we want to remain flexible to help those families who need us. We are looking for solutions to meet the special needs of this current family and other homeless refugee families, while continuing our mission to help families in need from this area.

I am so proud of Family Promise and the services and assistance they have been able to accomplish. It sends the daily message that you belong, you are worthy and you can assist in any language.

• John Derryberry is director of Family Promise of Linn County.

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