Family Promise Chicago North Shore, a nonprofit organization based in Evanston, works to help families experiencing homelessness stay together with the help of local volunteer families.
The organization started in Evanston in 2009 and took its first family into the shelter program the following year. The Evanston group is the only branch of the larger Family Promise network in Illinois, which has more than 200 branches nationwide.
Beyond the housing program, Family Promise also provides comprehensive services to the families in their care, including a housing referral program, financial literacy classes, and outreach programs to provide food and other needs to low-income families.
The North Shore chapter began when the group’s founder, XXX, moved his family from the Boston area where he worked at the local Family Promise chapter. According to Family Promise Chicago North Shore Executive Director Tracy McKeithen, XXX helped launch the new branch after learning that 200 families with children in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 were experiencing homelessness.
“We have a lot of families who have businesses in this area,” McKeithen said. “They work in some elementary schools and even high schools. “They work in this community and they choose to go to school in this community.”
Nearly half of these families were originally from Evanston but could not afford to continue living in the city and often stayed with relatives to keep their children in the local school system. When this is no longer an option, families turn to Family Promise by either seeking services or speaking with school administration.
According to McKeithen, the shelter program differs from emergency shelter programs in that it provides space for a single family rather than separating men and women and placing them in large, open shelter areas.
“They (emergency shelters) couldn’t take boys over 13 because all these families sleep in one area and you can’t let a 16-year-old girl change her clothes and there’s a 17-year-old boy six feet away from her.” aforementioned. “Many shelters like this are being set up.”
Family Promise clients spend two weeks at a time at local churches and houses of worship that partner with the nonprofit. Volunteer families bring dinner to share with them every evening, and then the families get to know each other while the children play. The client family spends the night in classroom spaces that have been converted into studio apartment-style residences. A bed is provided for each family member, and in the mornings Family Promise provides transportation to the day center in Evanston, where families can prepare for the day and send their children to school and their parents to work.
The nonprofit can serve up to four families at a time for up to 90 days. Last year, the average length of stay was 53 days, according to McKeithen.
Bessie Simmons, a current board member of Family Promise, has personal experience with homelessness, having gone through the organization’s program in 2014. Eight months pregnant, her ex-husband left her with her two children, a newborn and a four-year-old.
Simmons spent in total