Frequently Asked Questions About Family Promise and Hosting


How many host congregations are needed?  


Ideally, a program has 13 host congregations. You want to start with that number of hosts in place, but some networks open with fewer, generally at least 11. Fewer than that could overtax some congregations, jeopardizing their participation. Having more than 17 can dilute the experience for congregations, resulting in a loss of continuity and focus. With less experienced volunteers, a network would be harder to operate, and recruitment of volunteers would be more difficult.


We don’t have a Day Center in our community. How should we go about finding one?  

Most operating day centers for homeless people are not appropriate for the Family Promise program; they are drop-in centers that serve a mixed population, often including single men who live on the streets. These day centers are not suitable for homeless families.

More than likely, you will be looking for a space for a day center, as opposed to a day center already in operation. Most programs find space in downtown congregations, “Y”s, or social service agencies. Some use one large room, while others find a place with access to several rooms. Essential facilities are a lounge area for families, a play area for children, a small room or cubicle for the program director (who will provide most of the supervision of the day center), laundry facilities, and showers.


How do we handle transportation?   

Family Promise programs usually purchase a van, or a van is loaned or donated to them. Some programs contract with a transportation company that takes care of the van, driver, insurance, and maintenance. Programs that purchase a van usually get the money from foundations that fund capital expenditures.


Can we use volunteer van drivers?     

Family Promise does not recommend using volunteer drivers. For safety and reliability, it’s best to use paid drivers with verified driving experience and safety records. Scheduling problems, which can be time-consuming when volunteer drivers are used, can usually be avoided or minimized by using paid drivers.


What facilities do host congregations need to have for guests?    

Facilities must include a lounge area (with sofa, chairs, tables, TV), a dining area, a kitchen, bathrooms, and sleeping accommodations. Ideally, congregations provide a separate room, such as a classroom, for each family. If that isn’t possible, a fellowship hall or other large room can be divided by partitions to provide the privacy. In some circumstances multipurpose sanctuaries are used by moving the chairs and adding dividers.


Our building is in use almost all the time. How will we find the space?    

Congregations are busy places with many demands on their space. Rarely does a perfect space exist. Hosting almost always means making some scheduling adjustments for activities and meetings. For example, four or five times a year, AA or the Bible Study Group may need to move their Tuesday night meeting to another room.


Can families’ belongings be moved in the morning and moved back in the evening to permit the congregation to use the space during the day?

No. The sleeping accommodations need to be dedicated to the families for the entire host week. The beds and the guests’ belongings must not be moved in the morning and put back in the evening. Besides being cumbersome, moving the beds and the guests’ belongings would be difficult for guests. When guests arrive on Sunday, they come with their belongings and perhaps a few of their children’s favorite toys. They want to arrange their space as if it were their home.


How long do families stay in the program?    

The Guest Guidelines call for a maximum stay of 30 days. However, program directors often extend the stay as long as families are making good-faith efforts to find housing. In some communities, families can find housing within 30 days. In other communities—where there is a severe shortage of affordable housing and waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 are closed—finding a home can take 60 days or more.


How are families referred to the program?    

Two weeks before the program opens, the Director meets with potential referring agencies, for example, shelters, public assistance offices, and the school district. The director describes the program and provides printed material on how to make referrals.

When a homeless family seeks shelter through an agency, they are referred to the Program Director, who conducts interviews with the family and places them on a waiting list if immediate openings are not available.


Isn’t it difficult for families to move week to week?   

Moving every week isn’t ideal, but most families say that the homelike setting and the support of volunteers more than compensate for the moving. While host congregations change every week or two, the Day Center remains the same, providing continuity and a home base for families as they look for housing and jobs. The Day Center also provides a permanent address that families can use in their housing and job searches.


Will the children miss school because their families are staying in different congregations every week or two? 

No. The Director works with the school system to ensure that all children attend school. The Day Center is the permanent address of the Family Promise program. Children go to the school they have been attending or to the school nearest the Day Center. Arrangements are made locally with the school system.

In 1987, Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Act, (also referred as “Whatever is in the Best Interest of the Child”) legislation that requires all states and school districts to provide for the education of homeless youth. Each state has developed a plan to implement the Act. Most of the state plans are flexible and allow children to attend the school they last attended or the school closest to the Day Center.


What are the insurance implications of participating in the Network? Does the congregation have to amend its policy?

Each local program must carry general liability insurance. Congregations are usually covered by their own property and liability policies because Family Promise is considered to be an outreach ministry, a regular activity of the congregation like a youth sleepover or Friday night supper. Most congregations find they do not need extra insurance to be hosts. To be certain, each congregation must contact its insurance agent.


How much money is needed to start a Family Promise program?   

First-year budgets can vary, depending on whether a van is purchased and whether rent must be paid for the day center. Most programs find that first-year operating budgets are about $90,000. Family Promise recommends that local programs have at least one third of this amount on hand before opening.


How do we raise the money? 

Funds are raised locally from individuals, congregations, foundations, and corporations. Religious judicatories (regional denominational offices, such as the Presbytery, Methodist Conference, and Episcopal Diocese) often provide seed money, as well as ongoing funds. Local foundations within your county or state may also provide seed money.


How long does it take to develop the program?    

Some Family Promise programs have developed in 12 months, while others have taken a year and a half, or longer. Usually a program becomes operational about approximately 18 months after the Community Meeting. The most important and time-consuming part of forming a program is recruiting the host congregations. Programs that plan for and emphasize recruitment get there faster.


Do we really need to hire a full-time director? Can’t a staff member from another agency manage the program on a part-time basis?

You will need to hire a full-time director. A unique strength of the program is the intensive case management that a full-time director provides to homeless families. In addition to case management, the director coordinates and trains volunteers and is responsible for the overall management of the program. Without a dedicated professional, families would not receive the services that help make the program so successful.


What are some advantages of the Family Promise program over a traditional shelter?   

A Family Promise program has these advantages:

  • It is cost-effective because it utilizes existing community resources.
  • In Family Promise programs, about 76 percent of the guest families find permanent housing, often with volunteers’ help.
  • For congregations, the program is a vital outreach ministry within the walls of the members’ own church or synagogue.

A Family Promise program is a catalyst for other community initiatives. Many active programs go on to create new programs in areas such as parenting and mentoring, transitional housing, and housing renovation.