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On February 26, 2020, Family Promise National and Affiliate staff members gathered in Ambler, PA, for a train the trainer session on Living with Loss, Healing from Homelessness, Family Promise’s new loss and grief curriculum, which addresses a critical gap in services for families experiencing homelessness. This innovative program will help family members learn to process the loss and grief associated with homelessness and teach Family Promise staff and volunteers how to better support them.
Often, society does not recognize that people experiencing homelessness have experienced profound loss – whether through death, separation, abandonment, or the loss of tangible items, including their home and possessions - and the stigma associated with homelessness prevents those going through it from mourning that loss. A majority of family members experiencing homelessness exhibit signs of grief and loss, which hinder their ability to move towards better mental health and independence due to feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and shame.
Working with Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, Family Promise developed Living with Loss, Healing from Homelessness, a curriculum to equip children, teen, and adult Family Promise guests, volunteers, Affiliate staff, and community members with the skills they need to process the loss associated with homelessness and to support those who are grieving. The curriculum follows a “train the trainer” model where workshop attendees participate in experiential training, learning to share loss experiences and listen to others’ stories, and gain the benefits of peer support. Participants receive grief education, learn to see and understand homelessness as a loss, gain skills in how to support those who are grieving, and observe and learn facilitation skills that will be used to deliver to Affiliates training modules geared to staff, adult guests, volunteers, and other community homeless services organizations. Additionally, the curriculum includes a unique companion training piece where former Family Promise guests learn to take control of their personal narratives to help reassure and motivate current guests and build self-esteem.
After a two-year pilot in Family Promise’s Union County Program, during which Living with Loss, Healing from Homelessness was modified and refined, the curriculum was introduced to all Affiliates at Family Promise’s 2019 National Conference. The recent February training session, hosted by Inter-Faith Housing Alliance, a Family Promise Affiliate located in Ambler, PA, was the first of several to take place. Six national staff members attended including Regional Directors from the West, South, Gulf, and Northeast Regions. There were also seventeen attendees representing eight Family Promise Affiliates: Family Promise of Delaware County, Inter-Faith Housing Alliance, Family Promise of Carbon County, Family Promise of New Castle County, Family Promise of Lower Bucks County, Family Promise of Bergen County, Interfaith Hospitality Network of the Main Line, and Interfaith Hospitality Network of Philadelphia. Hope Johnson, Guest Advisory Council member, co-facilitated the session with Connie Palmer, Imagine’s Clinical Training Director.
“Living with Loss, Healing from Homelessness will give our volunteers, board, staff and community partners a deeper understanding of what families have faced before entering our program,” says training attendee Cheryl Christiansen, Executive Director, Family Promise of Northern New Castle County. “We hope this allows us all to approach families with greater compassion.”
According to Claas Ehlers, Family Promise CEO, “Living with Loss, Healing from Homelessness is a unique approach to grief and loss counseling, incorporating the best practices used to address grief and specifically tailoring them to the community Family Promise assists – families experiencing homelessness. Implementing this curriculum in Affiliates across the country will be life-changing for those we serve and those who work with them. Through Living with Loss, Healing from Homelessness, we can reach the most vulnerable – the more than 14,000 family members (including more than 8,000 children) that go through our emergency shelter programs annually – and give them the tools and support they need to face their loss. By helping family members identify, normalize, and explore loss issues, we can begin the healing process, remove the shame, and empower them to live healthier, more independent lives.”
Family Promise envisions a nation in which every family has a home, a livelihood, and the chance to build a better future. What began as a local initiative in Summit, NJ, has become a national movement that involves 200,000 volunteers and served more than 125,000 family members in 2018. Family Promise will change the future for 1 million children by 2030.