Story by BARBARA W. RUSSELL
Photos by ZACKARY HOUSEND
The most important thing to Brian Dickey and his wife, Julie, is their three children. Nathan is the oldest. He’s an active ten year old who loves to play soccer, baseball and basketball. Amber is seven, and she loves gymnastics, dancing, cheering and all the girl stuff. Little Bre is three – and, “She’s into everything!” Brian and Julie say in unison. They point to some scribbling on the wall that they call ‘cave drawings’ which are obviously the work of Little Bre, but Brian and Julie don’t seem upset. “We’ll just leave them until she gets a little older, then we’ll repaint the walls,” says Julie. Theirs is a happy home, and their love for their children is obvious.
The Dickey’s moved to Effingham 4 ½ years ago and it’s been a positive move. “I love it,” said Julie, “We’ve found home, and we love our church – Savannah Christian.”
One of the first things Brian did when they moved to Effingham was to sign up to become a little league soccer coach. “I love working with the kids,” he says. “I love seeing them improve.”
“Brian’s got a heart for kids,” says Julie.
This close-knit family is living ‘The American Dream.’ They live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, and Brian has a good job. Julie sums it up with her loving phrase, “We’ve found home.” Their situation may seem the norm to most, and something that is
taken for granted, but in Effingham County there is a growing number of families who have lost their homes. They’re what they never dreamed they’d be – they’re homeless.
“Homeless.” It’s a shocking scenario, and it’s something the average family would never dream could happen to them. Many who call Effingham ‘home’ would be surprised to know that a recent count shows that, “There are 96 homeless families in Effingham County, with well over 200 students in our school system that are homeless.”
If there are 96 homeless families in Effingham, where are they? And why are they homeless?
In small and large cities, the homeless are easy to spot. Simply put – they look poor – and they are poor; in fact, destitute is probably a better word to describe their condition. Their clothes are old and dirty, they hang out on park benches, and they may push a grocery cart that carries all their belongings, and unfortunately, seeing a homeless person can invoke a variety of feelings from sympathy to disgust.
But the homeless families in Effingham are not so obvious, and they do not want to depend on ‘handouts.’ The parents may still be working, or looking for jobs; their children are still in school, and they are desperately trying to remain together “as a family.” They lost their homes to ‘foreclosures,’ and even if they still have a job, they don’t have enough money to make a deposit on a rental.
Their desperate situations have forced them to live in desperate conditions. Some live in tents down by the river. Some live in their cars and park for the night behind a 24 hour facility, or at a truck stop with showers and public facilities. Some fortunate students may live with friends where they are treated like a member of the family, but without their own family.
Imagine living in a tent – no privacy, no comfortable chairs or beds, no heat or air-conditioning, no doors to lock at night. A luxury might be a community shower, a toilet, a friendly neighbor enduring the same circumstance.
Imagine living in a car – any way to sleep would be a cramped position, no heat or air-conditioning, fear of being robbed or evicted by police. A luxury might be using the restroom at a public facility and being able to change clothes, and to take a sponge
bath in the sink.
Imagine a student living with a friend – enjoying the kindness of the friend’s family with all the comforts of home: having food to eat, a bed to sleep in, a shower in a private bathroom, probably love and laughter – but without his or her own family.
There is nothing good about being a homeless family, and although food and shelter are vital, keeping the family together is of the utmost importance. Simply put, the children and their parents need to be together.
When Brian Dickey learned of Effingham’s homeless families, his heart went out to them, and when he learned about ‘Family Promise of Effingham County’ and their efforts to help homeless families transition to a permanent solution, he did not hesitate
before becoming involved. “Family Promise is only for families with children,” said Julie. “I think that’s what caught his eye.”
“These kids cannot help their circumstances,” said Brian. “You’ve got to have a heart for kids – mom, dad and kids – we can keep these families together.” “Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) is a partnership of congregations within a community helping families who are facing homelessness. It brings the faith community together to help families regain their housing, their independence and their dignity. The nationwide program began in New Jersey, and it is currently operating in 41 states and
in the District of Columbia. It is in large cities, suburbs and rural counties.”
“Effingham County is working on starting a local chapter of Family Promise of Effingham County, which is part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network. United Way has been very instrumental in getting it off the ground,” says Dickey, who is the project’s
core group facilitator, and he emphasizes that “IHN is a hospitality program. It is not a handout,” he says.
Family Promise of Effingham (FPE) will be able to host four families (up to 14 people) each week. In order for it to become fully operational, it will need a building with showers to be used as a Day Center, transportation (such as a 15 passenger van), a
full-time Director, and a minimum of 13 churches to host families. Family Promise of Effingham is thankful that seven of the county’s 100+ churches have already committed to supporting this program. Each church will host the families for one week during each three month quarter, and they will provide dinner, breakfast, lunch and a place to sleep.
The Day Center: During the day, family members who are not working or in school will be at the Day Center where they will be served lunch, do their laundry, and be counseled for obtaining a job and housing. Students will be transported to their regularly
The Host Churches: Families will sleep in a church at night. Portable beds will be set up in the church on Sunday evening, and they will stay there all week. Very early the next Sunday morning they will be picked up and stored at the Day Center for the rest of
the day, then taken to the next host church.
Volunteers from the church will provide dinner and fellowship, and entertainment for the children. The volunteers will stay the night with the families in the church, and classrooms are often used as private sleeping rooms.
The Transportation: A small bus or van will be needed to transport students to and from their schools and to transport families from the Day Center to the host churches. It will also be used for transportation to jobs and job interviews.
The Full-time Director: The director will counsel the families on finding work and housing, and will coordinate transportation needs and the setting up of the host churches.
“Our intent is that when they leave, they will have a job, or a better job, or a trade to get a better job,” said Brian.
Brian’s days are full of obligations to his job, his family, his church and whatever else life throws his way, yet he still finds the time and energy to work enthusiastically to help improve the lives of families who have recently become homeless, and these are
families that he doesn’t even know.
Why does he do it?
“These are people just like us. They have fallen on hard times….but by the grace of God….it could be me,” he says simply.
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