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Family Promise Blog

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A New Solution by Matthew Wagner

“What are some of the biggest barriers to permanent housing right now?”

That’s a question we get asked a lot. The answer is a little more complicated, but the main external barriers include a lack of:

· Affordable housing.

· Landlords willing to give families a chance despite credit issues/tenant history.

· Childcare.

· Transportation.

The one that usually is most surprising to the person asking the question is transportation. Those who are not frequent users of the local bus system don’t realize the challenges associated with figuring out a bus schedule, especially when it involves getting children to day care, getting to work, getting back to the day care by a specific time to get their child, then getting home.

Many may not even know that the buses only run certain hours, or that if a bus driver calls off, the bus may not run at all that day leaving riders unable to get their child to day care or themselves to work. The unfortunate reality is that the public transportation system in our area, while vastly improved, is still not an option for many. And even at its best, it is an unreliable, limited option.

Thankfully, Family Promise is soon going to be able to help some with this need beginning in April. Thanks to a pilot program funded by Santander Bank, we will be launching our “WHEELS UP” program. It will have funds to help with the costs associated with permanent solutions to transportation needs. This goes beyond giving someone a bus pass or paying for an Uber ride. It’ll be money for costs such as vehicle repair, getting a driver’s license, and even paying a down payment on a vehicle.

As with all of our programs, we don’t want this to be just a hand out. So, there will be:

1. Financial literacy requirements to the program for the participants to learn about budgeting, repairing their credit, etc.

2. Up-front payment. A payment schedule will be established for them to repay half of the amount, with the other half being forgiven by the funds from Santander Bank in order to help stretch the dollars further and teach participants responsibility when it comes to making payments.

This is a program we will be offering not just to our participants but to the community through our amazing partners in the housing and human services fields. We’re taking another step toward expanding our network and being able to help more families in our community to work toward stability. Stay tuned in the coming months for more information about our WHEELS UP program and how it is helping people move from homelessness to home.


Hidden Homelessness by Stacey Coldren

Homelessness has a stigma. It always has and probably always will. But not all homelessness looks the same. Couch surfing, living in a hotel, and doubling up are all forms of hidden homelessness. Most often, these forms of homelessness are overlooked since the individual or family has a roof over their head each night.

Based on the 2021 numbers of K-12 children in Cumberland and Dauphin Counties, more than 740 children and their families were living in doubled-up housing situations. That is a staggering number of children whose families could not receive proper shelter resources since they were not technically homeless.

What do we mean by not “technically” homeless? Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness as someone who:

· Is exchanging sex for housing

· Is staying with friends but cannot stay longer than 14 days

· Is being trafficked

· Left home because of physical, mental, or financial abuse or threats of abuse and have no safe, alternative housing

Programs that receive government funding are restricted to follow HUD’s definition of homelessness, turning away families that may desperately need their services.

That is where programs like Family Promise come in! We recognize all forms of homelessness. FPHCR strives to help our clients regardless of their housing situation and family dynamic.

“I was homeless. Not hopeless. I knew a better day was coming.” - Chris Gardner

*Chris Gardner is an American businessman and motivational speaker who experienced homelessness prior to his business success. The movie The Pursuit of Happiness was based on his experience and autobiography of the same title.

P.S. We do not want to sound as though we don’t support programs that utilize government funding. We work closely with all partners in our community and appreciate each program for what they offer. We all work together to try to end family homelessness!


What does it mean to be “triggered”? by Susan Ryder

Stacey stood at the podium, at a local church, at a loss for words and in tears. This was the first experience I’d had with someone who had been “triggered”, and I, inadvertently, had caused it.

I’ve heard trigger warnings on radio and TV programs before a troubling subject would be discussed, though I had never really given it much thought. I’ve also heard triggering warnings being dismissed as people just being too sensitive, but this was the first time I’d actually seen the results of a trigger.

Prior to Stacey taking the podium, she and I had been discussing my relative’s relationship with an abusive partner. The situation was similar to Stacey’s before, during, and after she and her family came to Family Promise as guests, about seven years ago. This discussion triggered her, causing her to begin crying. She had trouble gathering her thoughts and had to end her talk more quickly than she had planned.

After worship, we talked about what had happened. Stacey said she didn’t realize she was getting triggered by our conversation until she was at the podium. And I felt awful for not recognizing that talking to her in detail about another abusive relationship may trigger her.

Triggering defined is: “In mental health terms, a trigger refers to something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. A trigger affects your ability to remain present in the moment. It may bring up specific thought patterns or influence your behavior.” (

People diagnosed with PTSD can be triggered by sounds, smells, noises, and in this case, a discussion.

Family Promise guests can also have triggers. We won’t know what they are, but they could cause them to withdraw, tear up, or become irritable and anxious.

How can we help with triggers?

· Allow guests to choose to share their stories.

· Listen.

· Avoid asking probing questions.

This will give them room to share as much as they feel they are able, without feeling as if they need to answer questions that might trigger them.

Showing grace to someone who is out of sorts can also help. We don’t know what someone has been through, or why they might be acting or responding in a less than positive way. If you have concerns about a guest, please let us know so we can talk with them, address the situation, and if necessary, offer them counseling.

Later that morning, over sweets and coffee, we talked with some church members, and I explained what happened. I thought it could become an educational moment for all involved, including myself. It’s a good lesson. Rather than dismiss what happened, we acknowledged it with those around us, talked it through, and took that lesson home with us.


My Path to Family Promise by Kevin Sheppard

Hello, my name is Kevin Sheppard, and I am the new Case Manager here at Family Promise of Harrisburg Capital Region. I have had many roadblocks, trials, and tribulations in my life and have spent many years homeless myself. I understand the stigma of being part of the homeless population and not wanting anyone to know. I was able to get back off the streets for a while but then eventually, I lost the house that we had and became homeless with both of my sons.

After losing the apartment, things got harder. Eventually I was able to turn things around, and I started taking courses at HACC and picked up where I left off in 2012. Within a year I had enough credits to graduate with an associate’s degree in Human Services, Drug & Alcohol. I then chose to pursue my education with the Shippensburg Cohort program. I graduated with my bachelor’s in social work in December of 2022.

I came to Family Promise of Harrisburg Capital Region for the first time at the beginning of my 2021 fall semester. I came looking to do an organizational assessment on FPHCR and was able to meet Matt and get permission and his cooperation on my assignment. The next semester I had a group project to complete, and we did a fundraiser for FPHCR and collected almost $500. We turned that into Giant gift cards to help the families who were staying there at the time.

In my final semester I sought permission from Matt to do my internship at FPHCR. He once again was receptive with open arms. I talked to Matt several times about a possibility of working for FPHCR but there were no opportunities at the time. I hung around after my internship as a volunteer, and eventually, Matt approached me about a position that was coming open, and I jumped on it! This is where my heart is because homelessness hits so close to home for me.

Now I am finally working in my field and enjoying every minute of it. I believe I am finally where I belong, and I love what I am doing here. I would eventually like to begin working with the victims of human trafficking. I am hoping to continue gaining knowledge and insight into the homeless problem in this country and be able to help those needing guidance, therapy, or other services or resources to obtain the help they need.

Matt's Family Promise Heroes

Who are Matt's Family Promise heroes? - FP kids! - Amazing volunteers such as Laurie and our Spring Jam committee - Our Facebook followers -You! Check out this quick video where Matt shares more about his FP heroes.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes by Stacey Coldren

What does a hero look like to you? To me, some heroes wear totes on their heads as opposed to capes. When a parent comes into program, they always say, "I am here because of my kids. If it wasn't for them, I would have given up."

So, if you think about it, children are the heroes in their parents’ lives. They save them from giving up. They inspire them to keep taking those positive steps forward.

That sounds like a hero to me!

Our Families: Our Heroes by Susan Ryder Out of context, this doesn’t seem like much, but when you know the story behind these pictures, it’s extraordinary! Steve, a single dad working full-time with two children, couldn’t find a place to rent. The family eventually found themselves living in his car, after exhausting their savings staying in a hotel. Then the family of three entered Family Promise. We’d like to say that everything was downhill from there, however, challenges abounded! But things did get better, much better. A partnership with a generous church allowed Family Promise HCR to secure an apartment for Steve and his family! Now they have their own place, with their own beds, AND coordinating curtains. This represents a successful example of guests, Family Promise HCR, and local partners working together toward self-sufficiency! As we know, this family is not alone. Many in our community struggle for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being a lack of affordable housing. The father from the story above agreed to be interviewed by CBS 21. That story is here. Our guests are our heroes. We see them every day, watch how they struggle, and see them keep trying anyway. It inspires us to keep going. It inspires us to do our best. Our families are why we’re here. They are our heroes.

We All Need Community by Matthew Wagner

When I was growing up, we ALWAYS seemed to run into someone my Dad knew (even when we went to Florida for vacation one year). It drove us NUTS!!! Now, my children are experiencing the same thing…All they want to do is get done our errands and go home, but here I am talking to this stranger (to them). However, as they’ve gotten older, they’ve come to realize that my connections can sometimes be useful.

We recently had a question about what to do with some money my son had saved from working over the summer. A quick email to a financial advisor friend of mine provided the clarification we needed and showed my son the value of relationships.

One of the trends we see with families experiencing homelessness is a lack of those relationships. For one reason or another they don’t have someone to turn to for financial assistance in a crisis, or for counsel and advice, or for suggestions on where to go for expertise. Sometimes, our families don’t even have a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or a voice to say, “It’s going to be ok.”

That’s one of the beautiful things about Family Promise HCR. (Yes, I do recognize that I’m biased!) Through our Interfaith Hospitality Network and the engagement between our volunteers and our families, we see these relationships created.

Often that interaction leads to relationships forming between them that carry on long after the families move out of the program. For example, one of our families developed a strong relationship with St. Peter’s Lutheran in Middletown. St. Peter’s was one of the first churches the family stayed at, and ever since then, the family has been back several times for services. In fact, the oldest child has started helping prepare communion, and the family plans on attending services even after finding permanent housing.

It is these types of bonds that will make the biggest difference in the success of the family after they leave our program. The relationships they form with our volunteers are the “secret sauce” to their continued success and one of the reasons that our program has such a high success rate (over 65%).

Unfortunately, post COVID, we (and every service organization I’ve talked to) are struggling to find the volunteers needed to provide those relationships. With that in mind, if you are part of a community-minded organization, faith-based organization, scout group, business club, social or community service organization, sports team, knitting group, (or any other group!), please consider asking your group if we can come and share the difference you can make in the lives of the families we serve. I guarantee you that not only will it help the families on their path from homelessness to home, but it will be a blessing to them along the way…even if it may drive their kids a little crazy when they run into the family around town.


Family & Program Updates by Stacey Coldren

A Key to Starting over as a Good Tenant

“When I moved into my first apartment after being homeless, it was a shock. I understood what a lease was, but I did not understand the language or my rights as a tenant.”

As someone who was homeless for many years, moving into my own home was exciting but scary on many levels. I remember when I signed my lease, I was so confused and overwhelmed by everything I was reading. I didn’t understand the language they were using or what my actual rights were as a tenant. I learned overtime and had an incredible landlord who helped me to navigate my way through the first few months of living on my own.

The fear I had is all too common for many families that experience homelessness and have to start over again. This is why Family Promise HCR offers a program called “Keys to Good Tenancy.” This program helps to provide families with the knowledge and skills to become good tenants. During the program the families will learn by addressing many elements, including leases, budgeting, home repairs, renter’s rights, neighbor relations, and more!

Please check out this article from Family Promise National for more information about this terrific program.


Get Involved! by Susan Ryder

We love to talk about Family Promise, and throughout the year we get to do that at local events and festivals. If you’d like to talk with folks about Family Promise too, we’d love to have you join us and engage the public. It’s as simple as smiling, giving folks a flier, and telling them what we offer local families. Contact Susan Ryder (susan@familypromisehcr or 717-737-1100) for more details.

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