Gregg's photos

Day-in-the-Life : 2007-03-21

Homeless Families in the US

Interfaith Hospitality Network, Warren County Ohio

Continue to the IHNWC Photo Essay

When thinking of the homeless in America we often conjure up pictures of the isolated, and possibly mentally disturbed, individual living as a vagrant. Maybe you see them in the park or under a bridge or sleeping on the street. Yet we rarely envision entire families who, for various reasons, have fallen on hard times and are unable to afford housing.

The occurrence of homeless families is more common than one might expect. A January 2007 "Day In Time Homeless Survey" conducted by the Warren County Housing Coalition in Ohio found that of 344 homeless persons in their county a full 52%, or 179 of this total, were children under the age of 18. Families which are defined as one or more parents with one or more children made up 85%, 293 persons, of this total. The number of families containing these 293 persons is 96 – approximately 3 persons per family. Homeless individuals in Warren County accounted for 15%, or 51 persons.

Interfaith Hospitality Network of Warren County Ohio (hereafter, IHNWC) is an agency that assists homeless families in their transition to a more stable living environment. As stated in its name, this organization is a cooperative of many faith communities working toward providing intermediate care to homeless families as they make their way through a program of education, job training, life skills preparation and housing search. Typically a faith community will provide their facilities to IHNWC for an entire week. Families will eat dinner and sleep at the facility. IHNWC has their offices and Day Center in Lebanon, OH which also has showers and storage facilities.

Families are picked up from the hosting facility at 6:30am and delivered to their work, childcare and education locations by IHNWC provided transportation. Some clients will spend the day at the Day Center doing paperwork or searching for housing, childcare or jobs. Another transportation run at the end of the day collects clients from their various sites and returns them to the Day Center where they can make phone calls, meet with Case Managers as needed, swap out clothing, take showers if the host facility does not have them and prepare for their overnight stay. Clients are then transported to the host location for dinner at approximately 5:30pm.

In addition to the hosting faith community a network of partnering faith communities, many without adequate facilities to host 5-6 families at a time, assist in evening duties. The designated host faith community or partner will provide the evening meal, activities for the children and two overnight chaperones who assist families with any needs or emergencies. IHNWC provides training for hosting and partnering congregations to ensure they are prepared to respond accordingly.

Since moving to Ohio nearly four years ago my wife and I have been active volunteers with IHNWC. We were overnight chaperones our first night out and have been part of a partnering congregation's effort on several occasions. During my time in seminary I acted as the coordinator for three small churches that collaborated in their bi-monthly hosting opportunity. As pastor of a new congregation I have highlighted IHNWC's mission and we have already acted as a partner congregation for an overnight hosting.

As a photographer and journalist the thought of being able to get into the story of these courageous people – the families of IHNWC – has always fascinated me. An opportunity arose to participate in a self-assigned photo-essay project last fall and I was fortunate enough to find great subject matter and purpose in documenting the families of IHNWC. My goal was to approach the topic in "Day-in-the-Life" fashion – one 24 hour period in which to collect as much meaningful information for the essay as possible. I contacted the Director of IHNWC, Linda Rabolt, with the plan and she eagerly sought the participation of clients and staff alike. Background information and releases were obtained, a schedule was established for the topical areas I hoped to capture and the day, March 21, 2007, arrived.

One peculiar note, and a departure from the hosting arrangements noted above, is that the day I was to photograph fell in a week when a hosting faith community facility was not available - one of the coordinators had fallen gravely ill. This gap in the hosting network meant that the clients were all housed at the IHNWC Day Center. Every available space that could be used for sleeping was converted for that use. The families made the best of the situation - often teaming up to provide support for one another. Two families slept in the dining room, two families in the nursery area, a larger family in the living room, and one in a spare office. To say the Day Center was crowded is an understatement. Their willingness to endure uncommon conditions in pursuit of their family's well being is a testimony to the resolve these families have.

For a photojournalist this type of assignment is grueling – there is absolutely no downtime. I arrived at the IHNWC well before dawn to observe the families getting ready for the day. Nothing within reason was off-limits from my cameras or questions. Dressing, eating, working, studying – everything was fair game. I appreciate the families' openness with me – their availability and honesty made this essay possible. I traveled to work, daycare and school on the bus with the families. I visited job sites and Head Start. I went to the Housing Authority. I made several stops at the Day Center. I shot in classrooms and cramped rooms and shower rooms converted to bedrooms. I ended my day at 9:00pm as one client family finished moving into their apartment.

Yet, for all the demands this day put on me as a photojournalist it pales in comparison to the up to twelve weeks some families must remain in this program, keeping this very same schedule. Their perseverance, hard work and faith demonstrate the desire these families have to make a better life.

Families Pictured:

Alycia Doughman and son Zachary. New arrivals to IHNWC the Sunday prior to my assignment.

Jamie Hoefler and son Brandon. Had spent just over a month in the IHNWC program. Jamie works at a local convenience store.

Ruth Pearce and daughter Hadley. Entered IHNWC with Jamie. Ruth is six months pregnant and attending life-skills training at the Warren County One Stop education center.

Kim Purifoy and sons D'Juan and Cameron. The day I am with them they will move into their new apartment. Kim is attending GED preparation classes at the Warren County One Stop.

Don Reynolds and Amanda Pottorf, daughters Geneva and Kylie and son Avery. They have also been in the IHNWC program just over a month. Don works at a manufacturing plant and Amanda attends GED preparation classes at the Warren County One Stop.

Don Reynolds and Amanda Pottorf wake up at 5:45am to get their three children ready for the day. Don is picked up for work at 6:45am. This week their entire family sleeps in the living room of the IHNWC Day Center.

Amanda readies Kylie for the day as Avery looks on. Amanda will spend her day at the Warren County One Stop training center in GED preparation classes while the children will go to day care and Head Start.

New arrivals to IHNWC, Alycia Doughman and Zachary, rummage through their storage locker in the early morning hours. During their time in the program this small cubicle will store all their possessions.

Jamie Hoefler and Brandon are assigned to sleep in one of the shower rooms at IHNWC. The Day Center makes use of every available office and room to house clients when a church host location is not available. An inflatable matress is placed in the room in the evening to convert the space to sleeping quarters.

7:30am and on the bus to day care and school. Transportation is a key link for success in the IHNWC program. Without this assistance most families would not be able to afford to get their children to care facilities or themselves to jobs and school.

Dave Brandt, one of IHNWC's drivers, delivers Geneva, Kylie and their brother, Avery (children of Don and Amanda) to day care by 7:40am.

GED instructor at Warren County One Stop, Linda McBride, works with Amanda and Kim on language arts skills.

Ruth Pearce waits for finance class to begin at the Warren County One Stop facility.

Alycia Doughman searches for housing and calls potential renters while Mary Rowe, case manager at IHNWC, assists with paperwork. Finding affordable housing that both accepts the Warren County Housing Authority's vouchers and is close to work, child care and education locations is a challenge.

Jamie works long hours at the AmeriStop in Lebanon, OH while son Brandon is at daycare. She has completed her One Stop training and hopes to be moving into an apartment soon.

Don Reynolds works on the production line at PAX Corrugated Products in Lebanon, OH. This physically demanding job has many tasks. Here Don follows product as it comes off the assembler and readies it for shipment.

Don takes a breather from stacking cartons while more product comes off the line.

Linda Rabolt, Director of IHNWC, consults with Kim about her options for getting furniture moved into her new apartment. Kim has neither a driver's license nor credit card so renting a moving van is not possible. Other arrangements will have to be made.

Kim signing her lease agreement with the Warren Metropolitan Housing Authority-Transitions Program. Vouchers for rental assistance along with continued life-skills and job training will be received under this program.

Kylie is one of the most outgoing children at the Head Start in Lebanon. She finds a real joy in knowing people and seems unfazed by her family’s transitional state.

Amanda picks up Avery and his sisters from daycare for the ride back to the IHNWC Day Center where they will have dinner and sleep.

Ruth and Hadley arrive at the IHNWC Day Center for the evening.

Ruth and Hadley have an appointment with Help Me Grow of Warren County case worker Kazi McDowell. This social service agency ensures infants and toddlers are developing on schedule and assist if necessary.

D'Juan (mom Kim) hams it up while brother Cameron swings in the background. The playground located behind the IHNWC Day Center is named "Jamie's Place" and was donated by the parents of a local teen who died in a hiking accident.

Kim searches through the IHNWC "heaven and hearth" furniture warehouse. She will get a couch, dressers, washer, dryer, chairs and beds for her new apartment.

Alycia and Zachary at the IHNWC Day Center before dinner. By the end of the day both parents and children are exhausted. The IHNWC program requires that each client participate fully in the often difficult transition from homelessness to a more stable living environment.

Dinnertime at the IHNWC Day Center. The dining room will later convert into a sleeping area for two families.

Ruth Pearce with Hadley enjoying time together after dinner. Ruth is currently six months pregnant and will be giving the yet-to-be-born baby up for adoption.

Cameron and D'Juan in their new bedroom. IHNWC provided matresses and dressers for their room.

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