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Family Promise Blog


Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week: The Hidden Homeless

Each day of Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, we are going to send you an email about a topic relating to our families. Thank you for being a part of the solution!


Everyone has their own battles to fight but when it is a child fighting, the results are often more profound. When families experience homelessness, the dramatic lifestyle changes that children go through can be a catalyst for both good and bad. Problems with addiction, education, and motivation can often stem from early childhood struggles. Helping kids respond and bounce back from potentially destructive events is something to support and foster, ideally as early as possible. Resilience is one’s ability to rebound from stress, failure, adversity, challenges, or even trauma. And, there is good news – it is not something that kids either have or don’t have, it is a skill that can be developed as they grow, even into adulthood. Teaching kids to be resilient allows them to reach for goals and not be afraid of falling short. By mitigating the struggles of experiencing homelessness, children can learn to take healthy, smart risks to advance their lives. Anxiety and depression are more prevalent in children today due to everything seen in the news from politics and climate change to a global pandemic, local community struggles and more. Information overload can often be the source of mental and behavioral health stress, and should be cared for with a new awareness and new tactics.¹ What can help? Getting outside and moving can always help take the mind off of discomfort. Some may not take as kindly to physical exertion, but moderate activity in greenspaces is healthy for a developing mind. If you are in a child’s life who is experiencing homelessness, be that committed relationship in their lives. That connection will provide support and stability for them to lean on and grow from. In the debate between nature and nurture, if the nature side has fallen short, the nurture side can pick up the slack and help ensure healthy development.² Johnathan was roughly 9 years old when he went through the Family Promise program, but is now 16 years old. He reflected, “I cannot remember her name but she was the woman that sat up front at the old Day Center in Lemoyne. She and I would talk about everything a 9-year-old could talk about, and she always had a smile on her face when we came in. My experience with Family Promise is that you should never take anything for granted and that you should always work hard for what you want.” Kids need to learn problem solving, and if the home they are a part of cannot provide this, it is good to seek outside help to keep growing and learning how to adapt in an uncomfortable and imperfect environment. It is not only the kids learning how to be resilient, but the adults as well, and being a good example to the younger ones helps teach resilience. It is often said that ‘knowledge is power’, and to that end, FPHCR has several programs designed to help children improve resiliency and avoid making early mistakes that could create difficulty in adulthood. These classes range from budgeting and job searching to social networking and skill workshops. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” - Victor Frankl Resiliency is a skill that can often be neglected, but as individuals go through tough times whether they know it or not, that skill is being tested and refined – and determines how well they bounce back. Being aware of ways to build those skills and improve the stress response is a good place to start, along with reaching out for assistance and helpful resources. FPHCR can lend a knowledgeable hand during your unique struggles, and is committed to getting you moving in a positive direction. While we cannot often control what happens to us, our power is in knowing that we can build the skills that help us bounce back quicker and stronger during the toughest of times. ¹; Resilience in Children – Strategies to Strengthen Your Kids ² Harvard University Center on the Developing Child; Key Concepts on Resilience If you or someone you know are in need of shelter, contact Family Promise of the Harrisburg Capital Region. Please call (717) 737-1100 or start the application process online here.

Family Promise HCR Spotlight

Each day of Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, we are going to send you an email about a topic relating to our families. Thank you for being a part of the solution!

The Hidden Homeless by Susan Ryder In the Harrisburg area, many people have lost their housing, but you won't find them living on the street.

“Do I separate myself from my kids, or do I stay on the streets with them?” asked Steve Foehlinger, of the bleak reality he faced as an unhoused father with two children.

He came to this crossroads after running the gambit of housing options, doubling up with friends and family and living in a hotel for a year. These are options for some folks dealing with homelessness, but they come at a steep emotional and financial cost.

After living with friends, Foehlinger, his young son and daughter had to move when their hosting family lost their own housing.

“When you are trying to move forward with your life, sometimes when you double up, you take on that extra stress from the family you’re living with,” he said.

Foehlinger is one of many people in the Harrisburg area who can be described as the “hidden homeless.” They’re not readily visible as people lacking permanent housing. You won’t see them in the tent encampment under the South Bridge or sleeping in the park. Their numbers are substantial, but they’re not included in the annual count of the homeless population.

Instead, after losing their housing, they scrambled to find whatever shelter they could so they didn’t end up living on the street. They couch-surfed. They paid outrageous weekly rents to live in cramped, unsafe, rundown hotels. They shuffled among friends, relatives and even sympathetic strangers—a week here, a week there.

Often, like Foehlinger, they have children in tow.

Joanne Taylor, her husband and daughter found themselves homeless nine years ago after a rent-to-own opportunity went sour.

“The house that we went after was condemned because of its foundation and structure,” Taylor said.

The family moved into a nonfunctional RV parked on an out-of-the-way piece of property. It was basically a box to keep them out of the elements, but it didn’t do that very well. Taylor broke up a bit when she described their time there.

“If you’ve ever seen the movie, ‘Frozen,’ where everything freezes up, that’s what our windows looked like,” she said.

Eventually, the family moved into a hotel. On the upside, it was warmer, but the downsides were plenty. The cost, for example. The least amount Taylor has ever spent on a hotel was $300 a week. Foehlinger has paid as much as $500.

“Most people see it [living in a hotel] from their perspective,” said Aisha Mobley, community mobilization and outreach coordinator at Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area.

However, it definitely is not the Marriott.

“There’s a difference between staying in a hotel because you’re on business and staying in a hotel because you’re homeless,” Foehlinger said.

When asked about the hardest part of living in a hotel, Kalieb Foehlinger chimed in from the background.

“The space!” he said. “You have a bed here, a bed here, right near your bathroom. You don’t have much space to move around.”

Storing belongings adds to the confined conditions.

Both Foehlinger and Taylor mentioned how needed repairs were neglected in their hotel rooms. During the August heat wave, Taylor’s hotel air conditioner died. It hasn’t been repaired yet. They’ve also had an infestation of cockroaches, which caused them to leave the hotel they lived in for three years.

Stuck in a Hole

As the coordinator of a community center in a local hotel, created by Fishing Creek Salem UMC, Marty Wagner is very familiar with hotel life. He described what it’s like.

“Living in a 12-by-12 room with a minimum of two children, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with all your stuff, a dorm-sized refrigerator and the only way to cook your food is a microwave, ” he said.

He pointed out that’s why so many budget hotels have grills outside the rooms—so people can cook for themselves.

Wagner said that at least 40 families live in this particular hotel and described the money vacuum it creates.

“Once they get into this situation, it’s super difficult to get out of it because of their credit,” he said. “I would say that 90% to 95% that live here have jobs.”

Bad credit is one reason people find themselves in a hotel.

“People end up in hotels because you pay by the day,” Mobley said. “They take everybody.”

She said that the lack of inventory makes the housing market very competitive, and people with poor credit, any type of criminal background, reentering society after imprisonment, or an eviction find it very difficult to rent. Add the application costs, first month’s rent and security deposit, and it’s darn near impossible.

“They are stuck in a hole,” Mobley said.

Being stuck in this hole also makes them hidden. They aren’t on the street, and they aren’t on paper. These people are not included in the “point-in-time count,” done once a year, to measure homelessness in the United States.

And “they can’t get into coordinated entry,” Mobley said.

Coordinated entry is the process by which folks enter the shelter system in Dauphin County. It’s like a funnel in which applicants’ names go, and they get assigned to a shelter according to their need. However, folks in hotels, doubled up or couch surfing are not eligible, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of homelessness (it has four) to enter coordinated entry. So, they are blocked from the shelter system.

To become eligible for a shelter spot, people like Steve Foehlinger would have to be living in an “uninhabitable” space, like his car, according to HUD. However, if he chose this, his children could be taken from him. To keep his kids, he continued to pay exorbitant hotel rates.

Costs aren’t the only issue with hotels.

“There’s a lot of bad things that can happen there,” Wagner said.

Hotel residents are emotionally, physically and financially vulnerable.

Mobley described a situation in which a man insinuated himself into a single-parent family living in a hotel. He presented himself to the school as the children’s father. The children reported to the school that their mom cried every night, and they needed help. Eventually, the family just disappeared.

“Human trafficking is rampant in hotels,” Mobley said.

Foehlinger’s housing struggles now seem like a bad but vivid dream. With the help of a local church, he emerged from hidden homelessness and rents a nice home, with homemade pickles on the shelf, full cupboards and a comfy living room where his 4-year-old daughter napped.

“Sometimes, people become homeless because they choose to want to live like that,” Foehlinger said. “And there are people out there, that are the best people in the world, and they just have dumb luck, things happen. And almost everything they tried, they still get shot down at every angle.”

Family Promise HCR Spotlight

Welcome to the team!

Last month we welcomed a new member to the FPHCR team, our case manager, Christine Rockey! (Thunderous applause.) We are so excited! She's hit the ground running, and we know she's going to encourage and assist our families in the true spirit of care and professionalism that we value at Family Promise. Check out this video to learn more about her! Welcome, Christine!

FPHCR featured on Fox43!

Fox43 recently did a feature called "How the affordable housing crisis is hitting families in central Pennsylvania," and they interviewed one of our families. Affordable housing truly is an overwhelming crisis. Click here to learn more about it.

Best. Staff. Ever. by Matthew Wagner

I often say that we have the best staff ever. We work tirelessly for the families we serve, supporting each other, and promoting Family Promise HCR. Therefore, it’s been great to recently see the community recognize our amazing staff as well.

  1. From the moment Susan Ryder came in for her interview and jumped in to help with a plumbing issue (true story – and in her interview clothes!), we knew we had our new Community Engagement Associate. Susan has an extensive network in the community and is everywhere, doing everything, ALL the time. No further evidence of this is needed than her recent award for her freelance work with The Burg Magazine. She was awarded second place in the Excellence in Reporting on Diversity - Equity and Inclusion during the Keystone Media Awards. Perhaps if you ask nicely (and make a small donation to Family Promise), she’d sign a copy of the article for you! If you’d like to email her your congratulations, you can do so at

  2. Chou Hallegra, our resident mental health contractor, has made a WORLD of difference in helping our families navigate the trauma of experiencing homelessness, providing tools for them in dealing with the complexities of communal living, and serving as a resource for our staff. For this reason and for all she does for the community at large through Grace Hope & Consulting LLC, Chou was recently recognized by the Central PA Business Journal as one of their 40 Under 40 Nominees. If you want to send Chou your congratulations, email her at

Obviously, none of us do what we do for public recognition. The look on the faces of our families as they achieve their goals is more than enough award. However, the fact that the public is recognizing our amazing staff is proof of my assertion that we have the best staff ever!!!

Turkey Time Tips

This time of year always reminds us how lucky we are to have what we have. We often feel inspired to give back in some way, but it can be overwhelming. Here are some suggestions for simple things to do this season. 1. Write someone a thank you note. 2. Donate socks to a local shelter. 3. Check in on a neighbor. 4. Share FPHCR updates on your personal social media pages. 5. Say a prayer for families in our program. It doesn't have to be a big thing to make a big difference.

Wishbone Wishlist

By donating everyday items to Family Promise, you can make a difference in the lives of families experiencing homelessness who are working hard to regain sustainable independence. Please see the list below for items our families need on a regular basis.

  • Trash bags (not Good Sense)

  • Printer paper

  • Dish soap

  • Computers

  • Laundry detergent

  • Swiffer mop pads

  • Swiffer wet jet solution

  • Febreeze

  • Women's razors

  • Baby wipes

  • Shampoo

  • Shaving cream

  • AA and AAA batteries

  • Ziploc bags, foil, and plastic wrap

  • Paper plates

  • Queen inflatable mattresses

  • Gift cards to Sheetz, Giant, and Walmart - These help families with gas to go to work, food beyond what we provide, and medicine. Many items families need can be bought with these cards, allowing them to save their money to go towards housing while they are here. Another great thing about gift cards... they take up very little space!

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