Group’s plan to help homeless on track

Homeless families should have more places to sleep soon, thanks to ongoing efforts of a local group that has been working several years on the issue.

The Greater Nashua Interfaith Hospitality Network now has the minimum eight congregations it needs to operate a network of homeless shelters within church walls.

Participating area churches agree to serve as temporary shelters for a week at a time on a rotating basis. The most recent churches to join are the Amherst Congregational Church and Grace Lutheran Church in Nashua.

The group is now focusing on obtaining items such as beds and linens, said Helen Gutekunst, president of the network’s board of trustees.

If all goes well, the network could be in operation as early as Feb. 1, Gutekunst said. She anticipated the latest the network would be up and running would be the end of April.

The hospitality network is an affiliate of a nationwide program called Family Promise. A vital part of the program is the creation of a staffed day center that serves as a place where people can search for jobs or permanent housing. It would also be a place for families to shower and do laundry, Gutekunst said.

First Church in Nashua has offered the network space for a day center at a low lease rate, Gutekunst said.

She envisioned using one room in the building as a learning center where volunteers could teach people “simple office programs” that might help them transition from manufacturing to administrative positions.

The group already has a washer, dryer, refrigerator and computers ready and waiting in storage.

Last week, the network received grant money that will be used toward the purchase of a minibus to transport families to and from the day center. The sum was a little more than half of what was requested.

Another grant is being submitted to cover the director’s salary, and the group is waiting to hear whether a grant for rollaway beds and bed linens has been approved, Gutekunst said.

The group is still actively recruiting congregations to add to the network. It would like another five participants, Gutekunst said.

The group is open to using buildings owned by civic groups. In the national network, there is at least one hospital that has joined. It allows homeless families to sleep in unused meeting rooms at night and use vouchers to eat breakfasts and dinners in the cafeteria.

The program also provides bagged lunches that families can take with them.

The network is also signing up “support congregations.” These are often smaller churches that may not have the building space to host families but can provide other valuable services such as meal preparation or financial support, Gutekunst said.