Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting when she passed a woman experiencing homelessness on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich.The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich but asked for something more — a chance to be heard. Karen stayed with Millie and listened. What she heard made her understand that homelessness brought profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection from society. Soon after, Karen and her two sons began delivering lunches to people experiencing homelessness on the streets of New York.
1986: THE FIRST NETWORK
When Karen learned that homelessness was affecting families right in her own community in New Jersey, she knew she had to do something. But this was much more than giving sandwiches. She brought together people in need and people who wanted to help. Existing community resources could provide shelter, meals, and housing. Volunteers could use their skills, knowledge, and compassion to help their unhoused neighbors find employment, reconnect with society, and restore their dignity.
She approached the religious community. Congregations offered hospitality space within their buildings. The YMCA provided showers and a family Day Center. A car dealer discounted a van. The first interfaith hospitality network opened on October 27, 1986.
1988: THE NETWORK GOES NATIONAL
As word spread, more New Jersey congregations formed a second network. Other congregations were inspired to develop similar programs. In 1988, we formed the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to bring the program nationwide. In addition to shelter, meals, housing, and job-seeking support, our Affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homelessness prevention. Nationally, we added programs like Just Neighbors and Family Mentoring.
1997: FAMILY PROMISE OF GREATER DENVER ESTABLISHES THEIR AFFILIATE
In 1997, a small group of compassionate individuals saw the unmet needs of families experiencing homelessness within the Denver area. This group met with Karen Olson, the founder of Family Promise, an organization started in 1988 in Summit, NJ to serve children and their families in need of housing. Soon this group recruited ten faith communities to shelter families in the Greater Denver area for a week at a time in their facilities.
2003: BECOMING FAMILY PROMISE
As the organization grew, the National Interfaith Hospitality Network changed its name to Family Promise, to reflect their broad range of programs and their vision of ending family homelessness. The name refers to the promise, in the sense of commitment, that communities make to families in need. But it also refers to the promise, the potential, inherent in every family.
2004: FPGD EXPANDS PROGRAMS
In 2004, Family Promise of Greater Denver noticed more and more families in need of shelter and experiencing homelessness. As a result, FPGD expanded their Shelter program to support an average of 8 families between to church rotation models.
2015: STABILIZATION PROGRAM ADDED
In 2015, they began to notice families were returning to shelter, more and more people were moving from out of state without a safe place to call home, and families were being displaced from housing. Therefore, FPGD began to expand programs in order to accommodate these changes. They added stabilization programs, Home & Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) to provide longer-term engagement as families transitioned out of shelter and back into housing. These supports allowed them to follow the housing first model: get families housed, then tackle the other areas of their life that may need additional support to ensure they remain housed.
2017: GRANTED PREVENTION FUNDING
As more people began to move to Metro Denver, the cost of living and housing affordability significantly increased each year. In 2017, FPGD was presented with an opportunity to apply for Prevention funding. Upon being awarded, this funding allowed them to work with low-income, at-risk families who were suffering from financial instability often from one unexpected bill such as a medical bill or car repair that caused them to be short on rent for the month. This service enabled them to keep families safe and housed with a small amount of financial assistance.
2018: DIVERTED FAMILIES FROM HOMELESSNESS
In 2018, through funding from the City & County of Denver, FPGD added a Rapid Resolution Program. This is another front-end intervention aimed to shorten families experience with homelessness. Through shallow subsides such as move in assistance, relocation, or food assistance Family Promise was able to divert families from the shelter system and into more stable housing quickly.
2020: SHELTERING THROUGH
In 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, FPGD began implementing the Bridge Shelter Program. With funding from the City & County of Denver, this program allowed them to shelter families who have been paired with a housing subsidy through Metro Denver’s One Home System but have not yet identified a unit that will accept them to move in. This program is meant to bridge the gap from emergency shelter into longer term housing.
When the COVID pandemic hit in March of 2020, they quickly responded to the need to alter programs, especially the Core Shelter Program. Due to the nature of the shelter operating in a congregate setting and relying on volunteers, when the virus began to spread, it was no longer safe for both clients and volunteers to operate this way. They made the difficult decision to move families into extended stay hotels, thinking this would be for just a few weeks. The projected few weeks turned into two years. They continued to shelter families in hotels until February 2022. Due to the decrease of COVID funds, they moved back into the original shelter model of sheltering in faith communities. This model is extremely cost-effective since the congregations incur the overhead costs of shelter.
2022: FPGD MAKES MOVES - CELEBRATES 25 YEARS!
In 2022, Family Promise moved to a new location to become a better access point in the community. During the first two years of the pandemic, they assisted more families than ever before thanks to emergency funds disbursed by the government and local donations in the community. The pandemic highlighted many of the barriers families encounter when applying for assistance in the Denver community. Family Promise continues to take calls in crisis, shelter families, offer rental assistance, and more.