Kristina Mitchell and David Kelly both lost jobs last year. Mitchell's car was repossessed. By October, Mitchell and Kelly, who have a 3-year-old son, were homeless.
The couple, who have been together five years but say they can't afford to get married, discovered Family Promise of Anoka County, the county's only shelter for families. The nonprofit shelter in Coon Rapids was perfect -- a base the parents could use to job-hunt while caring for young Kolton during the day before returning to the nearby Church of St. Timothy in Blaine, where they were housed at night.
Then Family Promise relocated -- from Coon Rapids, where convenient bus routes were plentiful, to the more rural northern edge of Ramsey. For Mitchell, 42, an Army veteran who is used to packing her bags, the move to the spacious rambler with room for four families means more time commuting back and forth to Blaine. But the new location is a blessing, Mitchell says, not an inconvenience.
"It's nice here," Mitchell said. "It's a relief to know that there's someplace people can go, where there's a plan to provide for basic needs.
"And 3-year-olds are very adaptable."
The move is one of many changes for Family Promise of Anoka County, now in its third year. Twice the size of its former home in Coon Rapids, Family Promise has a new executive director. It is supported by 800 volunteers, who donated 14,000 hours last year, and nearly 20 local churches, most of which host families overnight, said Carol Fedora-Myrick, who had served as interim director after Junita Cathey resigned to start her own business.
Of the 30 families that Family Promise assisted last year, about 80 percent have since found permanent housing. The average stay for a family is 47 days.
Many are single-parent families, usually headed by the mom. Some have stayed for as long as three months, said Lorena Palm, vice chairwoman of the Family Promise board.
But there are couples like Mitchell and Kelly, 45, who are eager to work. She cut hair but lost her job due to a lack of transportation after her vehicle was repossessed. Kelly's snow-removal job is seasonal. They were living with his family, but that only seemed to add to their stress.
Now, the family is offered meals at St. Timothy and then they arrive by a provided van at Family Promise around 7 a.m. While one parent uses a computer to hunt for jobs, the other can care for Kolton,
"We've learned to set goals for ourselves and being here, in this warm atmosphere, we actually have a chance to achieve those goals -- and take care of our child," Mitchell said.
Those goals are met through donations and fundraisers, like an "Out of the Box" event being held Feb. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Bunker Hills Activity Center in Andover. Groups have been asked to create symbolic homes representing hope, places that would be better places to live than a cardboard box. Ticket-holders will be served wine and appetizers, be entertained by a jazz trio and can vote for the winning design. (Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Call 763-568-7365.)
Family Promise operates on an annual budget of $150,000, Palm said.
For Fedora-Myrick, a licensed social worker who never wanted to be an executive director, serving as Family Promise's interim director the past four months has been a good fit.
"I came from a parish in Richfield where you didn't dare be selfish," she said. "You always thought of others. This is very natural for me."
Case manager Trisha Perez feels the same way.
"I can't imagine not helping," she said.
But they've gotten an assist from the new facility. After two years of leasing the Coon Rapids facility from the Salvation Army, Family Promise was able to move into a vacant 1950s rambler owned by Lord of Life Church in Ramsey. The church, located next door, is charging $1 a year.
"The kids can go back to their same schools and we've found transportation to get the parents here," Palm said. "It is a disadvantage to be away from main public-transportation routes, and I'm thinking we may need a van. We'll start talking to car dealerships around here."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419