The Family Place
Purpose Prize Fellow 2015
This longtime community worker provides a comfortable day center where homeless families can eat, relax, bathe and learn.
In 1997, I was the director of an emergency night shelter for homeless families, securing evening lodging for families in church basements. I was very focused on making sure families were well-kept at night, and I doubled the capacity of the program. Each day after breakfast, the families exited the churches with all their personal belongings, and I really didn’t spend any time thinking about what they were doing during the day.
But once you crack the egg, you can’t put it back inside.
I began hearing stories of families sitting on park benches hoping not to be kicked off. Or spending their days in libraries or riding buses all day, until the evening shelter opened. My blinders were shattered the morning I heard a frightened little boy ask his mother, “Where will I find you after school?” That stabbed me right in the middle of my chest. A child shouldn’t have to have that kind of concern. Could it be that my community had no safe, appropriate places for homeless families to go during the day?
It turns out that children with their parents comprise more than a third of Minnesota’s homeless, and the number of families living without permanent housing continues to increase each year. Cyclical poverty passed down from one generation to the next is a form of societal chaos that has devastating impacts.
So in 2001, I created The Family Place, a day center for families who lack permanent housing. It can serve up to 40 people a day, including children. We offer three meals a day, as well as a safe, educational place for children and their parents to relax, bathe, or do laundry and store personal belongings. I used all my retirement savings to create The Family Place. I had to ask my children to be my safety net in case this failed.
- Raised more than $6 million since 2001; oversees 1,600 volunteers a year.
- Has provided a safe, comfortable day program for 14,000 homeless people over that time, and has served 57,000 meals each year.
- Opened Minnesota’s first Montessori preschool housed in a homeless shelter.
Today, I have six full time and six part-time employees. We have a Montessori preschool in our center that can take up to 16 homeless kids, and I have developed a 16-week curriculum to teach families about tenant rights and responsibilities, parenting, substance abuse, mental health, nutrition and financial literacy. When we stabilize parents, we stabilize their kids. I spend my days sweeping the floor, going to corporations to seek funds and showing parents how to bathe newborn babies. When you work with families in a traumatic situation, every day is brand new.
At the entryway to our building, this quote welcomes each person: “When One Door Closes, Another Opens.” This is just as true for families in transition as it is for me. My encore has become my life’s work.