A HOME FOR THE HOMELESS

Brie Bednar and the expanding services of Family Promise Rochester
by Anne Scherer

In 1999, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Rochester—now known as Family Promise Rochester (FPR)—was launched after a group of caring individuals saw the need to provide shelter, meals and comprehensive assistance to homeless families in the Rochester area. For 20 years, families were sheltered in partner congregations where they received a meal and a place to sleep.

In September 2019, Brigitte (Brie) Bednar took on the role of executive director, just in time to adapt to the new and still-changing rules of a pandemic.

HOMELESSNESS IN A GLOBAL CRISIS

“COVID-19 forced us to re-examine the way we were operating,” says Bednar. “We were no longer able to shelter in churches, many of which were shuttered due to the pandemic.” Instead, families were sheltered at Airbnbs, in hotels, at campgrounds and on the Bear Creek campus. Leadership decided to find a site to shelter homeless families. 

FPR now has a site large enough for offices, a day center and shelter rooms that is slated to open in January. Bednar explains, “We have the capacity to shelter four to five families, or 14 to18 people, but we will be operating at half-capacity for the duration of the pandemic.”  

Prior to the pandemic, meals were served at church host sites and provided by the volunteers of that congregation. When the new shelter opens, FPR will be looking to volunteers to provide meals, evening hospitality and overnight supervision. 

An individual or family must have physical custody of a child or children under 18 to enter the program. The program is 30 days but, if needed, can be extended up to 90 to 120 days. The average stay is 65 days.

A LOCAL PROBLEM, OFTEN OVERLOOKED

According to Mary O’Neil, program manager for the Housing Stability Team at the Housing Department of Olmsted County, 123 individuals were homeless as of October 2019. However, Rochester Public Schools identified over 400 school-aged children who were experiencing homelessness in the district last year.

“The problem of family homelessness needs more attention,” says Bednar. “Families who are experiencing homelessness are typically not very visible in the community (not sleeping in parks, etc.) and so are often overlooked. Homelessness is tragic, but family homelessness is inexcusable.”

Most of Bednar’s career has been in nonprofit leadership, but she states, “My role with FPR has opened my eyes to a very serious problem in the community. I am proud of the families we have served who have worked hard to graduate to stable housing. We can’t solve the problem of family homelessness in one swoop, but family by family we can make a huge difference. And to each family we serve, that difference means the world.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

FPR is funded primarily through contributions from individuals, churches, businesses and service clubs. “A very easy thing that the people of Rochester can do to help them understand homelessness is to volunteer with us,” says Bednar. “Come in and meet the families we serve—you will see that they are not so different after all.”

FPR is a home for the families they serve. Even after they’ve graduated out of shelter, the families remain in touch. A community and a beautiful network of families, volunteers and staff who all care deeply has been built inside four walls and a roof.