By Doug Ireland
---- — DERRY — Only three days after Christmas, Teri-Anne Pate and her two young children suddenly found themselves with no place to go.
The 28-year-old Kingston mother’s roommates moved out of their home and Pate was unable to afford the $1,400-a-month rent.
“We didn’t have any place to stay,” said Pate, the mother of 4- and 10-year-old sons.
Then, she heard about Family Promise — a nonprofit organization dedicating to assisting homeless families by providing a network of shelters and helping them find permanent housing.
For nearly two months, the family lived at a Seacoast Family Promise shelter in Stratham, but it was too far for Pate to commute to her job in Salem.
She was fortunate to learn about a new network of shelters operated by Family Promise of Greater Rockingham County, which serves residents throughout Southern New Hampshire.
In late February, the organization began hosting homeless families at 11 local churches and at its new day center at Calvary Bible Church in Derry. Twenty area congregations are participating in the effort.
Pate and her children are among three families — three adults and seven children, ranging from 7 months to 16 years old — being hosted by the organization.
The single mother said if it weren’t for the homeless network, she wouldn’t know what to do. It has allowed Pate to keep her family together, rather than sending her children to stay with relatives.
She’s been looking for an affordable place to live while working and caring for her two children.
“This has been a huge help,” Pate said yesterday. “We have clean clothes, we have a place to sleep, we have warm meals. We have a place to call home while we’re looking for a permanent home.”
Her children are happy, she said, and enjoy spending time in the day center. It’s equipped with couches, soft chairs, a television, a washing machine and dryer, and a dining area. Across the hall, four bedrooms are under construction.
“They love coming here,” she said. “It’s an amazing program.”
But the day center is just that, a place for families to look for jobs, apartments and eat during the day. Children attend school; every effort is made to keep them in their home school district.
At night, the families sleep and share dinner at a rotation of churches for a week at a time. This week, they are staying at People’s United Methodist Church in Fremont.
Board president Melanie Nesheim said a survey of area school districts revealed there are more than 150 homeless families in Southern New Hampshire.
She said the organization hopes to assist at least 25 families a year, helping most of them find permanent housing. They can accommodate up to five families or 14 people at once.
Family Promise affiliates are located across the country.
Families stay in the shelters for an average of three months, according to program director Victoria McKinney-Vareschi.
She said the goal is for the families to help themselves. There is no time limit for how long they can stay.
“As long as the families are being productive, they can stay as long as they want,” she said.
Right now, the network has four families on a waiting list.
The group’s new van transports the families between churches and will be used to take them where they need to go, according to Nesheim.
Nearly $9,000 for the van was raised through a fundraiser spearheaded by Salem resident Henry Glickel and his wife, Robyn.
The organization relies on donations and fundraisers to fund its operating expenses. Upcoming fundraisers include a book sale at Windham High School on April 13 and a dance-a-thon at Barron School in Salem on May 11.
To donate, visit familypromisegrc.org. Checks should be written to “Family Promise of GRC and mailed to: Family Promise of Greater Rockingham County, 145 Hampstead Rd., Derry, 03038.