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Published: 6/6/2010

Walk becomes shelter's first step to aid homeless

BY SARAH MERVOSH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

While there is no shortage of stereotypes about homeless people, the reality is often quite opposite from what people think, representatives from Family Promise of Greater Toledo said.

In fact, many homeless are just like anyone else except for a few bad breaks, according to Amy Contos, a volunteer at the local nonprofit that works with homeless families.

Most days, Ms. Contos said, she feels like she's looking in a mirror.

"I am a single mom. I make less than $30,000 a year," she said. "If we didn't have family close by, we could easily be in the situation they're in. You never know - with your car breaking down, anything."

Family Promise, an organization that works with the faith community to provide shelter and meals to homeless families, hosted a walk yesterday at Ottawa Park. The walk, titled Give Them Shelter, was the organization's first major fund-raiser. Elizabeth Tore, executive director, said she expected 150 to participate.

"The goal of the walk is a fund-raiser for the agency to help keep us operating and, second, to bring awareness to the issue of family homelessness," said Ms. Tore. "The vision in their mind usually is someone who is an adult who is dirty, might be scary, muttering to themselves. That's the vision people have. And the reality is, it's children. It's families."

The organization has more than 500 volunteers who contribute $250,000 worth of food and volunteer hours annually. The volunteers eat meals with families and stay overnight with them in local churches.

"We work with congregations all across the general Toledo area, and the congregations actually provide all meals and overnight accommodations for the families in our program," she said. "The idea was, here are these buildings that sit empty overnight and we have families sleeping in cars and on the street, so what do we do to use those existing resources?"

Family Promise serves about 14 to 16 people at a time or the equivalent of four families. The families go through a screening process and, once approved, they are allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days. Ms. Tore said the organization does not accept families with active drug or alcohol problems or those with a criminal history. As a result, the agency is normally an emergency shelter for families "who have just fallen on hard times."

"It's people just like you and me who are just doing the best they can to make ends meet and are dealing with a very difficult economy," she said.

Ms. Contos said she and her daughter enjoy volunteering with Family Promise.

"It's great. It can be crazy at times, but for the most part, it's a lot of fun meeting new people. You can get close with some of the families," she said.

She encouraged everyone to attend the walk to raise money for a worthy cause.

"Just their registration fees I know are going to good use by helping fund the program," she said.

Contact Sarah Mervosh at:

smervosh@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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