Justin, Dacy and their three children have a roof over their heads. They have food on the table and a family car.
They are good people who go to work each day, take home a paycheck and think of buying their own home in the near future.
Their family life today seems far, far away from the life they were living only a few months ago when they were homeless. They are living testimonials to the fact that families can recover from homelessness.
Justin, 30, completed two years of business at Cleveland State Community College but did not complete the degree program. Dacy, 21, intends to complete her GED. They have three children aged 2, 1 and 5 months old. Dacy will return to the worforce after she recovers from an optional birth control surgery.
They have been together for five years. Both of them worked factory jobs in Morristown. Both worked the third shift at the same plant while Dacy’s mother watched the children. Money was tight, but they were making ends meet and doing OK.
“But with the way the economy is, it’s hard to find a good job that doesn’t want to kill you with hours; to find a job that will give you what you need without wearing and tearing on your body,” she said.
But Dacy could see the family’s financial health deteriorating through a series of events beyond their control. They were both trying to work more time even as the calendar turned from the summer peak to the winter slowdown. The final blow was when their car broke down.
Family Promise Network Coordinator Brian Stewart was interviewed separately from Dacy and spoke in general terms from experience. His comments were not directed specifically toward Justin and Dacy. Although they did some things wrong, they did many things right. He especially admires them for keeping the family intact throughout the tumultuous period in their lives. He also holds the couple in high esteem for recognizing their position, for accepting help and then placing their lives in the hands of strangers.
In general, Stewart said anybody living from paycheck to paycheck who is hit with a layoff of any length of time is put into a downward financial spiral.
“If you’re in construction and the weather’s bad and you miss three days of work, that’s two or three days you are not getting paid. If you are living day-to-day or week-to-week, you can’t control layoffs or reduced hours at work,” he said.
He said loss of income generally compounds poor budgeting decisions or unwise use of credit.
“I can see the decision of not finishing your education as a bad decision because you at least need a GED or high school diploma to even have a chance in today’s world. But a lot of what I see are bad financial decisions,” he said.
Dacy explained that both of them lost their jobs after the car broke down. Without jobs, they had to move somewhere. They moved to Cleveland to live with Justin’s sister for a couple of months until they could get back on their feet. However, something happened and the couple was asked to leave.
“I called Brian from our storage unit,” she said.
“She called me on her cellphone just bawling. She was in tears. She had nowhere to go,” Stewart said. “When they came to us, you can imagine their self-esteem was down, their confidence was down — their world was shattered,” he said. “They didn’t have anyone to lean on. They had us.”
“I felt like the whole world was just falling on me and I couldn’t hold everything up — I was a wreck,” Dacy said.
Family Promise of Bradley County opened its doors in September 2011. Since then, 12 families entered the program, seven graduated and one is still with the network. Four chose to leave the program for various reasons. One was dismissed for not meeting program goals. Six of the seven families who graduated from the program are successful. One family was able to sustain itself for two or three months before returning to South Carolina.
It is faith in God that motivates 400 volunteers in 12 host churches and 11 support churches to help others. However, church affiliation or religious faith is not a requirement for families in need.
“Some families are not churchgoers. Maybe they’re just not there yet, but we hope indirectly that faith is guiding that family because they’re among us, and we’re strong in our faith and we’re who they’re in contact with on a daily basis, he said.
Host churches do not proselytize — except through action — when families stay the night.
“But the family we have now, you can see their faith guiding them,” Stewart said.
He said family members often express astonishment that anyone would care for them. Stewart tells them it is because they are loved.
“I always say it’s because they love you and they’ll say, but they don’t know me. I tell them they are a child of God,” he said. “We’re here to love and support you whether you are a churchgoer or not.”
Families enter the program dependent upon the kindness of volunteers for all of the basic human needs of shelter, food, clothing, safety and belonging.
“It puts a tremendous amount of stress on a couple,” Stewart said. “My wife and I have a stable home. We have everything we need and we [also] struggle.”
Dacy said, “Once we got into the program, we tried to keep the family together the best we could. It was like, we can’t let the kids see us upset because if they see us upset, then they would know something is wrong. We’ve got to be strong for the kids.”
The plan was to let Family Promise help them out until they could get back on their feet.
“At the time we came into the program, he was working and I was working. We were working swing shifts and it was just one thing after another,” she said. “Between work and kids, it was kind of tough to keep it all together, but with Brian’s help, we managed to get past all of the uneasiness we were feeling when we got kicked out.”
Though Dacy was uncomfortable sleeping in churches, she reminded herself of the two young children and a third one on the way that she already loved as much as the others. It was either put her trust in Family Promise or face the possibility of losing her children to the state.
She resolved in her own mind that, “I love my kids. I want to keep my kids and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they are happy, they have a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.”
Stewart said there is an added strain on husbands and wives because they reach different stages at different times and that makes it difficult to keep them on task.
“One may be here at this level and the other here,” he said, holding his hands at different heights to illustrate his point. “You have to somehow keep them on task to reach their goals, and it’s hard.
“We set goals. We have requirements, and if they’re not willing to work toward those goals, we can always ask a family to leave if they are not willing to help themselves,” he said. “This isn’t an easy program. We require a lot of our families. Because we are providing a lot, we ask a lot. There have been families that could not meet those requirements.”
Stewart said Justin and Dacy’s progress was delayed because the baby was born while they were still in the network.
“That was kind of neat, to have a baby born into the program,” he said. “The host and support churches are always supportive, but when the baby was born, they loved that.”
As they progressed through the program; as they began working and watched their savings account grow; as they paid off some bills; as they were connected to resources and made friends at the host churches, “you saw their self-esteem go up. You saw their confidence go up and you could see as time got closer, they knew they were going to go from that time of standing in front of a storage unit to having a roof over their heads.”
Now, they have that long-term goal of home ownership.
“That’s totally different from when they entered the program,” Stewart said. “The person you talked to today is not the same person who called me on her cellphone with nowhere to go.”