Homes for homeless families
Bridge of Hope helps children, parents fill very basic need
Bridge of Hope offers a bridge from homelessness to a decent place to live and a fresh start in life.
The Exton, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit started in 1988 with a vision that originated from several Mennonite churches. Members of other denominations quickly embraced the organization’s goal of ending family homelessness and stepped forward to get involved.
Bridge of Hope’s volunteers – known as neighboring volunteers – try to find homes for homeless families, but they do something else that’s equally important.
“The biggest thing they do is love on the families,” said Edith Yoder, CEO of Bridge of Hope National. “It’s a relief for them to feel loved and worthwhile and to finally have someone in their corner.”
About 400 neighboring volunteers are scattered around the country, working with 19 Bridge of Hope affiliates in a dozen states. Each affiliate comprises several congregations or church groups that work together to support the mission in their community.
The Bridge of Hope vision is all about “finding a solution to family homelessness – and specifically, moms and children who are without a place to come home to,” said Yoder.
Churches in Central Pennsylvania have a strong record of refugee resettlement, and Bridge of Hope founders realized the same skills could be applied to helping local families needing housing.
“Our families are usually single women with kids under 18, but it could be a single dad or a two-parent family,” Yoder said. More than once, Bridge of Hope has encountered a mother and her kids who were living in the mom’s car.
Staff social workers serve as case managers to support and guide the neighboring volunteers, who go through a training curriculum called Strangers to NeighborsSM.
One affiliate, Bridge of Hope of Greater Denver, has more than 10 church partners, with Lindsay Moore serving as Executive Director.
Moore said, “We identify and train our volunteers so they can move the way Jesus calls us to move” – to support and help people who need it the most.
“All of our moms are working,” she said. But most of the mothers the Denver affiliate has worked with “just aren’t making enough to afford an apartment.” Yoder sees the same thing nationally – those struggling to find housing usually have jobs. “Most of the moms we help are employed,” she said. “The old stereotypes do not apply.”
Bridge of Hope tries to find safe and reasonably priced housing for its families. Rental assistance is provided – usually for 6 to 12 months, depending on a family’s needs and goals.
The nonprofit often provides a security deposit and first month’s rent, then gradually decreases the amount it contributes to the family’s monthly rent.
Rental assistance averages about $5,100 per family, but varies because of regional differences in rental housing costs.
“Affordable rental housing is incredibly difficult to find in most parts of the country and is definitely one of our biggest challenges,” said Yoder.
Yoder said neighboring volunteers do much more than try to find a suitable place for families to live.
One neighboring volunteer talked to her dentist after learning of a client’s tooth problems and the difficulty it made for landing a better job. The dentist did the work for free. “Sometimes, people are eager to help but just need a nudge,” said Yoder.
Find out more about Bridge of Hope – and how you can help – at bridgeofhopeinc.org.