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Interfaith network serves homeless

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By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In any given week, two of 36 participating religious congregations in Wake County open their doors to homeless families for the night.

Last year, the Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network provided shelter, meals and case-management services to 76 families with 250 family members, including 155 children, 64 of whom were under age five.

The 12-year-old network faces growing demand for its services, with a waiting list of five or more families on any given night.

And like many nonprofits, the Hospitality Network faces a continuing challenge raising money, says Susan Marcinko, executive director.

The organization, with an annual budget of $290,000 and four full-time employees, hopes to raise $20,000 by Jan. 31, 2007, to match a $20,000 challenge grant from The Stewards Fund in Raleigh.

To do that, and raise awareness about homelessness, the group is seeking volunteers to host a series of “parties for a purpose.”

The group, which has served over 780 families since it was founded, also plans to launch a direct-mail appeal in mid-November.

“Raising money is what we need to keep on going,” Marcinko says. “One of our goals is to help educate the community and make them aware of homelessness.”

The challenge grant is designed to help the organization expand and diversify its funding base, she says.

The group also is in the early stages of exploring the possibility of broadening its services.

It currently assigns its client families a case manager who helps them set goals and examine what led to their homelessness.

The case manager also provides assistance on budgeting, money management, education and self-sufficiency, and on finding jobs, child care and transportation.

Families meet with the case manager at the network’s day center on Method Road they also can use as an address and base of operations where they can leave their belongings and where their children can catch the school bus.

Each week, two member congregations provide meals and shelter for the night, making classrooms in their facilities available to individual families.

That arrangement allows the organization to serve boys ages nine to 17, a population group most homeless shelters cannot serve, Marcinko says.

Last year, the network served 29 adolescent boys who likely would have been separated from their mothers at other shelters, she says.

Families can stay in the program for eight weeks, although the average stay is six weeks.

But the group wants to do more, Marcinko says, and has begun studying the possibility of also providing transitional housing in apartments or homes for families after they have completed the program offered by the network.

Rent for that transitional housing would be at a reduced rate, and the network would continue to provide case-management services.

An advisory board the network is creating to study the idea likely will have a plan within 18 months, and a capital campaign likely would be needed to finance any expansion, Marcinko says.

The network completed an $800,000 campaign two years ago that raised money to pay off the mortgage for its 6,600-square-foot building.

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