Churches 'Essential' to Fighting Child Homelessness, Expert Says

Churches are "essential" to the success of antipoverty programs, says an expert on poverty and child homelessness.

Dr. Ellen L. Bassuk, president and founder of the National Center on Family Homelessness, said that churches serve an important role to combating poverty "at the grassroots level."

“It’s important that they continue to play that role,” said Bassuk, a medical doctor.

Bassuk's remarks come as her organization, a nonprofit research group, released a "Report Card" on child homelessness in which Alabama was ranked 50th in the country in dealing with the issue.

According to Bassuk, the parameters were determined by four domains: numbers adjusted to population size, well-being, risk factors, and the degree of state-level planning and policy.

The “Report Card,” released on Tuesday, was an update from a 2006 report. In that report, Alabama was ranked much higher at 32nd place.

Bassuk observed that in this report card, the “numbers were higher” for child homelessness in Alabama and regarding policy, “planning has not improved very much.”

In response to the report, Rebekah Mason, director of communications for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, told CP, “The Governor has great concern for the most vulnerable in our state and that includes children who are homeless.”

Mason said that the governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (GICH) was established in 2005 before Bentley took office.

When Bentley was sworn in this year, “Governor Bentley has recommitted the efforts, through the council, to address the problem of homelessness on a broad scale.”

The report was not only telling for Alabama, but also the entire region as six of the bottom ten states were in the South.

“The southern states are poorer than the northern states,” noted Bassuk, who believes that the economic gap was the major factor for the results found.

Despite the report’s poor reflection on their state, Alabama’s churches are nevertheless focused on what they can do to help.

Trinity Presbyterian Church of Montgomery belongs to a network of congregations involved in a program designed to help the homeless “get back on their feet.”

“Each church houses several families for a week at a time giving them a place to stay in the church and meals through the week,” said Tom Danielson, director of missions for Trinity Presbyterian Church of Montgomery.

“That network is called Family Promise which is a national organization.”

According to Danielson, Trinity is also involved in a program called “House to House,” which “refurbishes dilapidated homes and helps families become home owners.”

Ken Roach, director of communications for Frazer United Methodist Church, talked about an antipoverty program his congregation is part of.

“Frazer has launched a new ministry in the past year strengthening our work with orphans and at-risk children,” said Roach.

Called the “ONEfamily Initiative,” the ministry’s purpose is to train and support “church members who are exploring the possibility of becoming foster parents and/or adopting children.”

It remains to be seen if the efforts of Governor Bentley and Alabama churches can change the poor ranking of the state on the National Center’s report.

While Alabama was ranked 50th on the list, Vermont was ranked at number 1.