What it means to be a homeless family in the Huntsville area

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Jerilyn Johnson is executive director of New Futures, Inc. - the Huntsville area's only homeless family shelter

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Being homeless is hard enough.  But to be a homeless family introduces an entirely new set of struggles.

One struggle? Simply finding a shelter that will accept you.

Single mothers with teenage sons. Single fathers with daughters. Married couples with children.

These are all families that would be turned away by most traditional shelters, due to rules requiring those of opposite sex to remain segregated.

The typical cut-off for a child is 13 years old. At that age, he or she is too young to stay in the general population without a parent.

That leaves the parent with two options.  Find someone else for the child to stay with – such as a school friend or relative – or remain homeless, together.

Jerilyn Johnson says, “people will stay in their cars because they don’t want anyone to know they’re homeless because they’re afraid someone will take their children.”

Johnson is executive director of New Futures, Inc., the only family shelter in the Huntsville area.

New Futures began operating as a family shelter in November 2011.

Johnson added new programs, aimed at helping the adults get back on their feet, including GED, transportation and job assistance.

“We went from 100% unemployment to 98% employment in one year,” she says.

There are currently 10 families living at New Futures, with many more on a waiting list. Johnson says the average length of stay is nine months.

Each family has its own bedroom. After the first month, they pay $150 a month for room, board and all services.

That doesn’t begin to cover the expenses, though. So, area churches help subsidize the outreach.

Still, as any parent knows, the needs are constant. Diapers, sheets, towels, laundry detergent. These are just some of the items that Johnson says take up the majority of her supply budget and donations are always welcome.

There are also opportunities to support the shelter, through online donations.

Johnson hopes to be able to eventually turn a corner of their fenced back yard into a playground for the children. She’s also working on making one of the rooms into a dedicated children’s space.

The families could also benefit from people willing to give of their time.

If you have a life skill you’d be interested in teaching, from crocheting to basic financial management, please contact New Futures at (800) 365-3553 or executive.directornf@gmail.com