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March 2021


Temple Emanu-El Leads New Homeless Support Efforts

Homeless.  Please take a moment to ask yourself what images that word conjures up in your mind.  Is it a street person dressed in dirty, shabby clothing, sleeping in doorways or in a makeshift tent on the sidewalk?  A child living with her parents in their car, falling behind her classmates in school, embarrassed to not have a dwelling?  A joyous family moving – at long last – into a micro unit?  And what, if anything, do you believe should be done to help people who are homeless?  More important, what do you believe you should do?

Let’s remember:  The Jewish people know what it means to be homeless.  We were deprived of our homeland for thousands of years.  It took a massive war, untold atrocities, and unthinkable genocide to even put the notion on the table.  We – perhaps as much as any people anywhere – understand how precious a home is.

This story is about good news, about families that are facing down challenges that might break even the sturdiest of us and winning.  Families who are overcoming pressures that most of us can only try to imagine:  on top of the dryer that’s not working, the shoes we ordered being the wrong size, the uncle who’s in the hospital, add wondering where your next meal is coming from, how you’re going to pay for your child’s medicine, where you’re going to find work.

So it’s a story of lives that should be celebrated and at the same time it should give us a sense of deepest gratitude for all that we have, all we were given, all that we too often take for granted.

I interviewed Tom Barrett for this story.  Prior to the onset of the pandemic, Tom was Temple Emanu-El’s site coordinator for Family Promise.  This organization enlists religious facilities to assist working homeless families by housing them and providing meals as they find a place to live and start a new life. 

Each facility commits to one week per quarter – Sunday evening to the following Monday morning – throughout the year.  Tom noted that, “Family Promise does a lot of vetting of the families before they can be accepted into the program.  They must be looking for work while getting help finding living quarters.  It’s really a great organization.  Ninety percent of the families find long term housing.”

In his role, Tom would reach out to Sof Ma’arav and Oahu Jewish Ohana to coordinate with Temple Emanu-El in providing overnight hosts and dinner hosts.  Between all of the volunteers, they put together a schedule for everyone.  Tom worked with our Temple administration to set up an annual schedule that fit with all of the multiple ways our campus is used. 

Volunteers typically participate once a quarter and often need assistance from Tom to know where things are and what they should do to be most effective.  Tom sees his purpose as providing continuity and making sure that everything goes well and everyone experiences success.

Each congregation had a point of contact, those who did the recruiting for their congregations for dinner hosts and overnight hosts.  Dinner hosts brought dinner in, for the most part, though some prepared meals in the Temple.  The kids would get lunch at school, while the Family Promise Center offered lunch to the parents.  Until the pandemic closed our facility, many Temple members who participated. 

Once a quarter, Family Promise volunteers would sweep, clean, and set up each room, moving out furniture, moving in air mattresses, making beds.  There were also “laundry angels”, those volunteers who, washed and dried sheets, blankets, pillow cases, and comforters.  Others made food runs and prepared breakfast and dinner for up to 14 people, usually 3 to 4 families, for 7 days.  (The Family Promise Center provided the shower facilities.) 

When families came to Temple, Tom was there to greet them every day.  “I wanted to make sure that they felt welcome,” he said.  “Maybe they would need an air mattresses blown up or to be shown around the campus.  They’re our guests and it was important to treat them that way.  It isn’t about asking for or expecting gratitude.  All I’m hoping is that they find a place to live on their own.  I do it for the sense of satisfaction.  They are getting the best we have to offer.  Nothing less, the absolute best.”

I was curious about what happened to these families since the pandemic meant that religious facilities were no longer able to provide them temporary housing and meals.

According to Tom “The pandemic caused Family Promise to expand their caseload and to comply with new local, state, and federal policies in order to become eligible for new funding.  The changes came about in order to keep everyone safe and provide services to the maximum number of families.”

The redesigned program means that the groups or congregations that were supporting the families before the pandemic now have the option to provide meals for the families at their temporary lodging. Doing so would give the families a welcome break and also show them that they are still supported by the community.  Tom wanted everyone at all 3 congregations to stay involved. 

The families are now lodged in an apartment facility on Kapiolani Blvd., where they are provided contactless meals twice a week.  Most of them receive SNAP benefits to buy food, but they only have a mini refrigerator, microwave, and rice cooker to prepare meals for their families. The maximum number of families that Family Promise is able to serve is 24. Presently, there are 17 adults and 11 children on the 10th floor and 2 adults and 1 child on the 11th floor. 

The current arrangement is for each organization to feed all the families Monday and Wednesday once a quarter. “Having volunteers prepare food at home raised too many questions of sanitation and safety,” said Tom.  As an alternative he proposed identifying a restaurant to provide the meals.  After investigating several, L&L Hawaiian BBQ was the least expensive and the items on the menu were similar to what many of the families were accustomed to eating.  Sof Ma’arav and Oahu Jewish Ohana each contribute one-fourth of the cost.  Temple Emanu-El contributes half.

You can help support the families working hard to move forward with their lives by making a donation to help defray the Family Promise expenses.  Please make out your check to Temple Emanu-El and write “Family Promise” on the memo line.

“Once in a while we will meet a single mom with a really young baby.  Of course, the child is completely dependent on her.  It’s a sobering feeling.  If we do our job right, they feel like more people have their back.  We’re doing this to make these peoples’ lives better and it’s very rewarding to be working with all three Jewish groups and knowing we really make their lives better.”

Tom also noted that more volunteers will be needed for Family Promise once the on-site lodging and meal preparation resume.  The experience is deeply rewarding emotionally and spiritually and is a mitzvah of the highest order.  If you are interested in learning more, please contact the Temple office. 

Here is the list of current group of Family Promise Volunteers:

Tom Barrett...................Site Coordinator
Barry Langlieb..............Set up & take down Coordinator
Alice Lachman..............Laundry Coordinator
Jackie Lau......................Overnight Coordinator, Temple E
Karen Kimbrell............Oahu Jewish Ohana Coordinator
Stan Jacobs...................Assistant Site Coordinator
Sandy Armstrong.......Sof Ma’arav Coordinator
Irene Barrett................Kitchen Coordinator, Temple E
Sue Schniederman.....Dinner Coordinator, Temple E
Hannah Hall..................Theda Barra Coordinator of Entertainment, Temple E


Tue, May 28 2024 20 Iyar 5784