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Page history last edited by Robin Heyden 11 years, 7 months ago

An FAQ about IHN

….or Frequently Asked Questions about

Interfaith Hospitality Network  by Robin Heyden


How many host congregations are needed to form a Network?

A Network needs 8 to 13 congregations – most Networks have 10.  Fewer than 8 could overtax some congregations; more than 13 would dilute the experience for congregations, resulting in a loss of continuity and focus.  If a Network has 10 participating congregations then they would each host families for five (non-consecutive) weeks in the year.


How many volunteers in the congregation are required to make it work and what do those volunteers do?

Typically 50-60 volunteers are required to fulfill the hosting responsibilities.  Those volunteers will prepare the space for occupancy, prepare meals, clean up, meet with the families, help children with homework, help with logistics, and a few will spend the night in the church during host week.  Having 50-60 volunteers will make certain that all needs are met without unduly taxing any one volunteer.


It seems like a lot of awkward coming and going – why doesn’t the IHF just lease a few apartments to house people rather than putting them up so uncomfortably in different churches?

The IHN provides temporary shelter and assistance to help working poor families make transitions.  Most of the families helped are back in a home of their own within three months or less.  The idea is to move families up and out of the system quickly; to get them settled into a home of their own and end the cycle of homelessness.  Providing housing in a leased apartment or house is very expensive and might begin to feel a bit too permanent and comfortable.  While moving every week isn’t ideal, most families say that the home-like setting and the support of volunteers more than compensate for the moving.


How long do families typically stay in the Network?

The guest guidelines call for a maximum stay of 30 days.  However, Network Directors often extend the stay as long as families are making good-faith efforts to find housing.  In some communities, families can find housing within 30 days.  In other communities finding a home can take 60 or more days. 


How much money is needed to start a Network?

First year budgets can range from $60,000 - $85,000, depending on whether a van is purchased and whether rent must be paid for the day center.  The amount donated by each church, of course, depends on the total annual budget and the number of churches participating in the Network.


What facilities do host congregations need to have for these guests?

Facilities must include a lounge area of some kind, a dining area, a kitchen, bathrooms (not necessarily showers), and sleeping accommodations.  Ideally, congregations provide a separate room, such as a classroom, for each family.  If that isn’t possible, a fellowship hall or other large room can be divided by partitions to provide privacy.


Would our facility at UUSWH have sufficient and appropriate space to do this?

Everyone who is taking advantage of the IHN system understands that this is temporary housing and, as such, not ideal.  These families are happy to have a warm, dry place to sleep and good meals to eat.  Before we sign on to the Metrowest Network we will do a thorough survey of our available space and confer with the experienced people at IHN to make sure that we have what is needed for those overnight hours.  We will also make sure that anyone using that space in our church during the day will be consulted on our plans going forward.



But our building is in use almost all of the time.  How will we make this work?

Churches and synagogues are busy places with many demands on their space.  Rarely does a perfect, free space exist.  Hosting almost always means making some scheduling adjustments for activities and meetings.  For example, four or five times a year, a particular group may need to move their Tuesday night meeting to another room.


How is transportation handled?

Networks purchase a van for their use within the Network.  Part of the money raised is put toward the purchase of the vehicle along with insurance and maintenance.


Who oversees the Network and makes decisions about which families we shelter and where they go?

Once the Network is established, a Network Director is hired (that’s another cost that funds are required to meet).  The Network Director is a social worker who takes recommendations from referring agencies (shelters, public assistance offices, the Red Cross, etc.).  When a homeless family seeks shelter, a social worker conducts a brief interview and then contacts the Network Director to find out if space is available.  If there is space and if the family seems appropriate for the Network, the agency refers the family to the day center where the Network Director conducts an in-depth interview before accepting the family into the Network.  Some Networks also have a board of directors but that is optional.


Where to guest families stay during the day?

When the Network is established, they work with a day center in a YMCA, YWCA, or social service agencies.  The Network van takes family members to the various places they need to go during the day – kids to their schools, parents to the day center or to job interviews.


Will the children miss school because their families are staying in different towns every week or two?

No.  The Network Director works with the school system to ensure that all children attend school.  The day center is the permanent address of the Network.  Children go to the school they have been attending or to the school nearest the day center. 


What are the insurance implications for our church?

Each Network is incorporated as a non-profit group with 501(c3) status and must carry general liability insurance. Congregations are covered by their own property and liability policies because IHN is considered to be an outreach ministry; it is a regular activity of the church like a youth sleepover or Friday night supper.  We will consult with our insurance company about the details for the UUSWH. 


What are the advantages of a Network program over a more traditional homeless shelter?

- A Network can be developed quickly and it’s very cost effective.

- A Network program doesn’t institutionalize shelter as a solution to homelessness.

- In Networks, about 70% of the guest families find permanent housing, often with volunteers’ help.

- Men and boys are not allowed in most shelters that take women. Therefore, a single mother with a 12-year old boy must sleep in her car, on the street, or be separated from her child. With the IHN program, the whole family remains together.

- For congregations, the Network is a vital outreach ministry within the walls of the members’ own church or synagogue.

- A Network is a catalyst for other community initiatives.  Many active Networks go on to create new programs in areas such as parenting, mentoring, and housing renovation.


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