Former Firehouse Becomes Center of Hope for Family Promise of Brevard
Not far from the intersection of U.S. 1 and State Road 520 in Cocoa is perhaps the most socially conscious example of architectural upcycling in the county. What was once a decommissioned firehouse has been transformed into a center for hope known as The Firehouse of Family Promise of Brevard.
“The city had planned to demolish it,” said Family Promise Executive Director Tara Pagliarini.
Instead, the City of Cocoa is renting the facility to Family Promise for $1 a year for 20 years. With the help of W+J Construction and other local companies like Architects RZK and American Business Interiors, which donated services in entirety or at cost, plus foundation support and leveraging the property to obtain a federal grant, the broken-down building experienced a phoenix-like rebirth as The Firehouse — hub for the organization that tackles root causes of family homelessness.
The revamped firehouse, which officially opened in March of this year, is now a one-stop shop where families can access comprehensive services from Family Promise, as well as from Career Source Brevard, Brevard Health Alliance, and Early Learning Coalition.
Gone are all vestiges of the old firehouse. The renovation includes a generously sized playground where children of families experiencing homelessness can play when their parents come for services and an interior wall of living plants from Frida’s Plants and Vintage that serves as a visual reminder of the agency’s mission of bringing the community together.
Melbourne-based SkyPeak Financial sponsored The Firehouse’s grand opening. SkyPeak CEO Jeremy Lindquist, one of a growing number of partners and community members attracted to Family Promise and its mission, first heard of the organization at a community event where Pagliarini was speaking.
“I was compelled to get involved,” he said. “I started with a donation, but got more and more involved because I see the impact of the organization.”
The Firehouse is located in zip code 32922, where many families struggle to keep a roof over their heads, but Pagliarini notes that families are at risk everywhere along the Space Coast and that the problem requires more than temporary shelter.
“Every family regardless of zip code deserves a home,” she said.
Homelessness in Brevard can be hard to understand. With its seemingly boundless growth, the area continues to sprout housing developments and apartment complexes. The reality, however, is that for many local families, decent, safe housing is difficult to obtain and keep.
About 40% of Brevard households live below the ALICE threshold. ALICE, acronym for asset-limited, income-constrained and employed, represents the number of families who, despite holding several jobs, just do not bring in enough income to afford the basics.
“The average two-bedroom rental for Brevard is $1,947, so at $11 an hour (Florida’s minimum wage), you have to work 177 hours a week to afford housing,” explained Pagliarini.
Teaming for Success
Empowering families to stabilize encompasses addressing housing, health, income, childcare, and education at the same time, in the same location, but by those agencies that are most equipped to respond. Family Promise of Brevard sees creating a talent pipeline in the center of the Firehouse through Elevate Brevard as key to increasing economic mobility. A great example is its partnership with Sustainable Workplace Alliance, which trains workers for well-paying jobs in the environmental field.
“We address the issue holistically, not as a bandaid,” Pagliarini said. “Our approach is multi-faceted.”
This approach works. In the 10 years Family Promise of Brevard has been in existence, 95% of families served through its Stabilization Program remain stably housed at the end of the first year of services.
Tackling homelessness before families are couch surfing or living out of a car makes sense, and many of the 1,500 families the organization helps each year are brought back from the brink of losing their homes through short-term case management paired with eviction prevention or move-in assistance.
For families currently homeless, Family Promise offers short-term shelter using a unique hospitality model that taps upon congregations that agree to donate living space for a week at a time, up to four times a year, as safe overnight shelter.
Families stay overnight with the host congregation and by 7 a.m., after receiving a nutritious breakfast and a packed lunch, head off to work, school, daycare or Family Promise’s Firehouse to work on their family case plan. At 5 p.m., they return to the host congregation for a hot meal and lodging. Families rotate to a different host site weekly.
“We provide the beds, volunteer training, coordination and transportation and our host congregations provide the space, volunteers and meals for families,” Pagliarini said.
The model has been a mainstay of a national network of Family Promise agencies that involves tens of thousands of volunteers in more than 200 communities in 43 states.
“It helps fill the gaps in shelter beds in our community,” Pagliarini said.
Sharing the Promise
The national organization evolved from an unlikely source: a sandwich. Founder Karen Olson offered a sandwich to a homeless woman, who proceeded to tell her story. Karen was so moved that she and her children began delivering food to people living on the streets of New York City.
Olson approached the religious community to help with shelter. In the 1980s, the National Interfaith Hospitality Network went nationwide. In 2003, the name changed to Family Promise to better reflect the organization’s vision, since the name refers not just to the promise that communities make to families in need, but also to the potential inherent in all families.
Client Chyna Cain discussed how Family Promise of Brevard fulfilled the promise for her. After losing her job, Cain and her children ended up living in their car until police referred them to Family Promise, where the family of five found much more than temporary refuge.
“They taught us how to get out of the hole we were in,” she said. “They showed us how to get our lives back together.”
Through Family Promise’s efforts, Cain received CNA certification and now has her own business and her own house. Through healthcare services Family Promise recommended, Cain discovered she had stage 2 breast cancer. Because her cancer was diagnosed and treated early, Cain has excellent chances for full recovery.
“We have been able to get strength as a family,” Cain said.
By working to keep families in their homes, Family Promise delivers children of client families from the worry and uncertainty of homelessness. Client Katonya Carson’s daughter, for example, is a straight A student in high school.
“Keeping a roof over her head is so important for her to stay focused and continue on her studies,” said Carson.
For client families, homelessness can be just a paycheck away.
“It is sometimes difficult to get through a day, much less a life without help and support,” said client Pauline Burgess.
“Family Promise of Brevard has truly made a significant difference in how I manage every aspect of caring for myself and my family.”
After her cost of rent almost doubled, Autumn Gray struggled to keep up with her monthly bills. Despite working full time, her income was barely meeting the needs for herself and her children. When her car broke down, she had no savings to cover the unexpected expenses.
“It put me out of work for a month and I just couldn’t keep up,” said Gray, who reached out to Family Promise, which offered Gray rental assistance so she would not lose her home.
“Without Family Promise’s help, eviction would have been our reality.”
This year marks the first decade for Family Promise of Brevard. While a 10th anniversary celebration is planned for December, Family Promise deserves recognition for its day-to-day impact. This year, the agency expects to serve 2,500 families, and fortunately, Family Promise has friends eager to help them fulfill their mission.
“Ten years of service in Brevard has shown us that our county is filled with people, companies and groups committed to supporting families in need,” Pagliarini said. “Every day, we get to be an example of what it means to be a community-powered organization.”
- Volunteer to help at The Firehouse in a variety of duties, from maintenance and special events to providing Sunday lunches for families experiencing homelessness.
- Join the committee to help with the 10th anniversary celebration in December.
- Donate and stock welcome home baskets for families entering stable housing.
- Become a host site.
- Plant your support of Family Promise with a $200 donation for its Community Plant Wall.
Families Experiencing Homelessness
- Brevard has a shortfall of 26,688 housing units as of Feb 2023
- Overall, rent is estimated to have increased between 33% and 41% since Feb 2020.
- Half of all Brevard renter households spend more than 30% of income on rent (cost-burdened).
- Family Promise of Brevard had an 82% increase in calls for help in quarter 1 of 2023 versus quarter 1 of 2022, averaging 300 calls a month from families who are homeless or at risk of losing housing.
- In 2021, Family Promise of Brevard helped 500 families. In 2022, they helped 1,500 families. The agency anticipates serving 2,500 families in 2023.