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Family Housing Support celebrating its first year

WESTERLY — Family Housing Support is celebrating its one-year anniversary this week with a free community barbecue. The celebration takes place on Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Dunn’s Corners Community Church, 221 Post Road.

The group’s volunteers, who work to help homeless families, have a lot to celebrate. After six months, they raised funds for one emergency apartment where a homeless family could stay for three or four months while they waited for more permanent housing. They’ve just completed the fundraising for a second apartment, and were recently in the process for a second three-bedroom apartment to rent in the area. The first apartment is already housing its second family.

Family Housing Support began in June 2013, when a group of concerned citizens met at Dunn’s Corners Community Church to discuss the growing number of homeless families in the area. The group had no name, no mission, and no cohesiveness; they were just a diverse group of individuals who wanted to help.

They did some research, and found out there are more housing options in the area for homeless adults, such as the 19-bed emergency shelter at the WARM Center in Westerly, than there are for families. The WARM Center does operate a program for homeless families called Harvest Homes, but there is a perpetual waiting list. WARM Executive Director Russ Partridge said there were 37 families on the waiting list hoping to move into one of 11 apartments.

Eventually the group chose a mission: to help homeless families in Westerly, Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton by renting two apartments that could be used to house families in crisis. Each family would be able to stay for three or four months until either the family’s housing situation stabilized or they could find a more permanent placement. During the families’ time in the apartments, they would receive services from the WARM Center in Westerly.

The cost of each apartment, including rent, insurance, and case-management services from WARM is about $20,000.

Although they started at Dunn’s Corners Community Church and still meet there, they are not tied to the church. The dozen or so active volunteers on the group’s Steering Committee attend a variety of local churches, or are part of other community organizations like the WARM Center or The Jonnycake Center of Westerly.

They’ve learned some things over the past year as well. Lorraine Michaud, a member of Family Housing Support’s Steering Committee, recalled that after the group rented the first apartment, she realized she had to furnish it quickly, and rushed around looking for donations. For the second apartment, she’s been collecting furniture and storing it in a container donated by Out-Back Storage. Once that apartment is rented, it will be furnished immediately.

Funds for the two apartments came from a mix of community sources, including many of the area’s houses of worship. While discussing plans for the anniversary celebration, several members singled out the monthly fundraiser by First Baptist Church in Charlestown, called Pancakes for a Purpose, as one reason for the group’s success.

Organized by parishioner Harriet Lamont, the church serves up a pancake breakfast the first Saturday morning of each month with all proceeds going to Family Housing Support. Lamont, who will be speaking at Tuesday’s anniversary celebration, has created material for the breakfast, such as informative placements called Pancake News, and housing-related coloring books for children. According to Michaud, one of Lamont’s news tidbits is, “Because 128 children in Westerly and Chariho are homeless, you need to eat pancakes.”

In the four months since the church began offering pancake breakfasts for a suggested $5 donation, $1,000 has been raised for Family Housing Support. Other churches are looking at possibly holding breakfast fundraisers on other Saturdays, Michaud said.

Michaud also mentioned that a granddaughter of Steering Committee member Tara DiMuccio recently opened a lemonade stand for Family Housing Support and earned $215. Michaud hopes to see more children helping homeless children in the future, she said.

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