Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network in 2011 served 216 people in 58 homeless family units, including 141 children. On January 12, 2012, WIHN admitted its 1074th family since beginning operation in July 1994. The network has 34 host congregations providing meals and overnight shelter 3 or 4 weeks per year for WIHN guest families.
The story behind Interfaith Hospitality Network
Karen Olson, who is the founder of the first Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) in New Jersey and continues to lead the movement, tells a story about a teenager – let’s call her Jill – whose family was staying in an IHN. (There are now 171 IHN’s located in 41 states and the District of Columbia). Jill made friends with a teenage member (“Sarah”) of a host congregation. Jill and Sarah were in the church and overheard someone explaining to a friend that their church was hosting homeless families that week. Jill responded to Sarah, “I’m not homeless. This IS my home!”
WIHN has two main objectives
WIHN helps homeless families back to independent living and educates the public about the plight of the homeless. The education component is accomplished mainly through the exposure of more than 2500 volunteers to the guest families.
The Day Center
The hub of WIHN operations seven days a week is the Day Center, where staff offices are located and where guests have a base of operations during the day. Families are referred to WIHN from a variety of sources. Among them are Wake County Social Services, the Salvation Army and other shelters, by other families who have been homeless, by other social service agencies, and yes, by the bus station! WIHN is unable to serve families with substance-abuse problems.
Case managers work with the family
When a family arrives at the Day Center, a WIHN case manager works with family members to identify factors that contribute to their homelessness. Adults could be under-employed, poor financial managers, have child care needs, or have a myriad of other conditions that prevent the family from functioning independently. Families usually have had a series of crises that contributed to their plight.
The case manager works with each family to define a plan that will result in the family attaining independent living once the plan is completed. The case manager reviews progress with family members frequently and modifies the plan as needed. Once the family achieves the capability to live independently again, staff help them find a suitable place to live. Some families secure permanent housing, while some move into transitional housing where the amount of rent is based on their ability to pay. In transitional housing, the family continues to work with a case manager to resolve any remaining impediments to living independently. A small number of families are unable to complete the WIHN program and leave without having permanent housing. The average family stays at WIHN six to nine weeks.
Children enroll in school
Upon arriving at WIHN, school-age children must get enrolled in school if they are not already attending school. Staff members work with the school system to arrange transportation for the children. It is inspiring to see WIHN children arriving at the Day Center after school, running in to enthusiastically greet family and staff.
The Day Center, located at 903 Method Road, has six full baths and four half baths, storage units for families’ belongings, a large living room, a kitchen and dining area, a nursery, a playroom for small children, sleeping space for family members who work through the night, computers in an office for guest use, and other features that support a family’s quest for becoming independent again.
Each evening, guest families arrive at two host congregations (some by vans driven by volunteers) who provide a private bedroom (converted Sunday School room) for each family. They are served an evening meal, and children sometimes participate in special activities. The next morning, breakfast is served, and those needing transportation are taken by van back to the Day Center.
WIHN, founded by members of several congregations, is run by a volunteer board of directors and a professional staff. A significant responsibility of both board and staff is raising all required funds from a diversity of sources to meet budget requirements.