An effort to establish a local affiliate of Family Promise, which assists families that are homeless, is well underway.

A series of community meetings is part of the organizational process, and the fourth such gathering was held Thursday night at First Presbyterian Church in Aiken.

There were more than 30 attendees.

“We’ve had a great response so far,” said Bette Ross who is the social ministry coordinator at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church.

Ross is the president of Family Promise of Aiken County.

Dr. Dori Hammond, a licensed professional counselor, is the vice president. The Rev. Dr. Brian Coulter of First Presbyterian Church is the treasurer. And the Rev. Irene Albritton of First Christian Church in Aiken is the treasurer.

Founded in the 1980s, Family Promise is based in Summit, New Jersey. It has more than 200 affiliates nationwide.

The closest one to Aiken is in Augusta.

Church congregations, organizations and even colleges and other schools that have the necessary facilities can serve as hosts for families, Ross said, and those families spend a week at a time at each location.

Family Promise provides transportation for the families as well as beds and other furniture that it transports to the host sites.

The hosts provide meals along with shelter.

Family Promise of Aiken County is seeking 13 hosts, and the families in the rotational shelter program will stay with them four times each year.

“We could have a minimum of nine hosts,” Ross said.

Plans call for the families to spend time during the day at a center operated by Aiken County’s Family Promise affiliate. Youngsters will go there for activities when they aren’t in school.

In addition, adults will work with a case manager “on issues that are keeping their families from finding stable housing,” Ross said.

Locally, the program will serve a maximum of 14 people at a time, which generally would involve three or four family units, according to Ross.

Each family will “enter into a contract with Family Promise as to what they are going to be doing and what Family Promise is going to be doing,” Ross said. “The goal, obviously, is to get them in stable housing. The average stay for Family Promise nationally is 58 days, but we don’t rush them out and say, ‘You’re time is up,’ if they’re not ready.”

In addition to hosts, Family Promise of Aiken County’s needs include a building for its day center for families, a 15-passenger van and additional volunteers to serve on its Host Recruiting, Day Center, Transportation, Fund Development and Communications committees.

“When a family comes to Family Promise, a child has to be involved,” Coulter said. “And the family is usually defined as however the child defines it. It might be a kid, a single mom and a grandma. It might be a kid and two parents. One time, at a church in Fairhope, Alabama, where I had my last call (before First Presbyterian), it was a single dad and a daughter.”

In Aiken County, options are limited for homeless families that include adult males. The Salvation Army of Aiken has an emergency shelter that accepts both adult men and women.

But Mt. Salem Ministries in the Gloverville area is for men only. Stand at the Crossroads Ministries and Mental Health America of Aiken County, both located in Aiken, have transitional shelters for single women only and their children.

“For a single dad and his daughter, there is no place they could go,” in Aiken County and be together in a transitional shelter, Coulter said.

Based on statistics from the Aiken County Public School District, “there were over 400 children at the end of the school year identifying as homeless” based on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act definition of that situation, Ross reported.

“That is a documented number, but I don’t want it to be misleading,” she added. “If a child identifies as homeless the first week in September, and they find housing, the county still will follow them. So that (the School District’s figure) doesn’t mean we have 400 students out on the street. But it’s a number we can use as a metric of how we’re doing.”

Ross hopes that Family Promise of Aiken County will be ready to assist its first families sometime next year.

Earlier this year, it was announced that a Family Promise affiliate would be coming to Aiken after the Belk department store chain and Family Promise created a new partnership. Belk contributed $1 million to Family Promise's mission. Part of that money is being used to help fund the development of 10 new Family Promise affiliates in South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Mississippi.

For more information about Family Promise of Aiken County, call Ross at 803-292-4933 or send an email to bross@charlestondiocese.org.

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.