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Interfaith Hospitality Network provides 'stability and hope' to homeless families

March 22nd, 2012 1:28 pm by Staff Report

Interfaith Hospitality Network provides 'stability and hope' to homeless families

Tim Carter, the director of Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Kingsport, explains that the agency is part of a statewide organization called Family Promise that helps families get on their feet after they have become homeless.

By Marsha Salley


Standing at 601 Holston Street in Kingsport is a gray house - a large house, neither impressive nor pretentious as houses go. But this house, as ordinary as it might seem at first glance, holds great treasure for many people. That's because 601 Holston Street houses the offices of Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Kingsport. For over 10 years, families fighting the specter of homelessness have found food, warmth, shelter and hope in these surroundings.


The mission statement of IHN is both simple and profound: "Providing stability and hope to the lives of homeless families with children."


Tim Carter, the network director, explains that the agency is part of a statewide organization called Family Promise that helps families get on their feet after they have become homeless.


"I worked in public housing for many years before coming to this position and I thought I had seen people in need until I watched a husband with his wife and two children come in with literally everything they owned stuffed into a garbage bag... then I really saw a family in need," Carter said.


The organization is unique not that it addresses homelessness but that it serves only families with minor children and it houses them together, unlike all other charities for the homeless. Upon entrance into the program, the family is housed in one of the partner churches and given meals, laundry and transportation, all free of charge.


During that time, the head of household is either looking for work or transported to work and given a break from living expenses so that they can save money for deposits, car repairs, whatever is needed to get them into some permanent shelter at the time that they leave the program.


"We have a case manager/social worker on staff who works with each family assessing their needs. There are 18 components to each self-sufficiency plan that include things such as child care, life skills, transportation, support network, etc. Each family has to have practical goals in order to reach self-sufficiency at the end of their stay," Carter said.


The maximum time for clients to stay in the program is 90 days and the average family is staying around 70 days.


Carter and Gail Preslar, the president of Kingsport’s Interfaith Hospitality Network, are passionate about the mission of helping families.


"In looking at any of our decisions concerning a family, what we ask ourselves is ‘what’s good for the children?’ That’s what we base everything on," Preslar said.


While Carter and Preslar and the board of directors all are invaluable to the program, it would fall apart without the partner churches who provide the place for the families to stay. About 15 churches are presently opening their doors to the homeless. At least four rooms and one bathroom are provided per family and the church is host for seven consecutive days. Other churches provide meals or assist with manpower or donations. Carter drives a van that picks up the families at 7:30 a.m. each morning when the kids go to school or day care and the parents go to work or to a job search.


Carter stresses that the needs of a family without a home are great.


The agency needs two more churches to assist with housing, and finding affordable housing in Kingsport is the greatest challenge IHN faces.


But seeing the children and their parents find hope again makes everything worthwhile.


In Gail Preslar’s words, "it’s what’s best for the kids - always what’s best for the kids."


Anyone needing services or interested in helping the Interfaith Hospitality Network can call 423-246-6500 or learn more about the services at www.ihngk.org.

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