IHN Update

Posted on November 13, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on just about everything around us, and IHN (Interfaith Hospitality Network) is no exception.

When the pandemic hit hard in March 2020, the Somerset County Board of Social Services, which sends 99% of the clients to IHN, shut down. There were two families in the rotation (moving from congregation to congregation), and they were put in a local motel. This is an enormous cost burden to IHNSC (Interfaith Hospitality Network of Somerset County). Thus far, each congregation that would have been hosting that week has been covering that week’s costs. In the end, the congregations are supporting IHN at a higher cost than ever.

Each congregation has been providing meals during its scheduled host week. TBE hosted on-site in February 2020, but has since been providing meals to the families at the motel in April, June, August and October. It is fairly certain that the family will remain in the motel into 2021, so we will again supply meals during December 20-26, 2020.

We have been blessed with very generous TBE members who provided money to purchase a meal or two over the months, and one generous member who made a sizable contribution to IHNSC for a complete week of purchased meals, which happened in August. Also, a restaurant provided many meals during the early months of the pandemic.

Although the Board of Social Services has now been open again for four months, IHNSC has not received any referrals. This makes one wonder why no homeless families have come forward for services. It’s well known that the food banks are stressed and need more food and product donations than ever. Jobs have been lost, and homelessness nationwide is on the rise. One can only hope that in our Somerset County bubble, people are swallowing their pride and turning to family and friends. But what IHN and TBE have learned, unfortunately, is that the current families are not being helped by family members in any way, which is very disheartening. It makes our involvement with compassion and support more important than ever.

When the COVID-19 shutdown occurred in March, there were two families in the emergency shelter rotation. Since then, one family was moved to Sunrise House, the IHNSC home that houses up to five people. Families in Sunrise House work and pay 30 percent of their individual income for rent, plus $75 for utilities. They still receive counseling and are saving for the day when they move to an apartment of their own, assuming all the financial obligations. There are currently two families at Sunrise House: Chelsey and her daughter, Nevaeh (age eight), and Mary and her two girls Deborah (age six) and Praise (age seven).Berta and her two sons José (age 11) and Manases (age eight) remain in the rotation and are living at the motel. José is now fluent in English, with Manases right behind him.

Berta has indicated that she, too, wants to learn English, which will be a blessing, as the lean IHN staff have to sit with the boys during their virtual lessons, making completing all the day-to-day work challenging.

The children in the rotation and at Sunrise House are in school: José and Manases go to school for two hours a day and then go back to the center for three classes virtually. Nevaeh is all virtual, and Deborah and Praise are on the same schedule as José and Manases. The five kids all have school-issued computers.

The Sunrise House families still receive essentials from IHN: toilet paper, paper towels, dish detergent, etc., and a ride to the grocery store to use their food stamps.

IHN continues to provide individual case management, financial case management and mental health counseling for the Sunrise families, as well as for our Phase 2 families (those who are in their own apartments but are having trouble making ends meet).

In an effort to create services during the pandemic and beyond, an IHN board member is reaching out to congregations that are not in the network, to see if any of them have a building they could let us use on a temporary basis during the pandemic, working with CDBG (Community Development Building Development). This would enable IHNSC to reach out to those in need in the community, and it would house up to four families, including the family currently in the rotation.

As a second initiative, IHNSC is looking for clients to participate in its Phase 2 – Continuum of Care program. It would like to offer intensive case management, financial counseling, mental health and basic needs support to families and/or individuals who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness. The goal is to provide needy people and families with the many supportive services and resources that IHNSC offers, which are aimed at fostering stability and independence.

IHN’s calendar raffle is the gift that keeps on giving! With daily drawings being held November through January 2021, participants have multiple chances to win, since each winning ticket goes back into the pot. What a fun gift for a loved one for the upcoming holidays or a special occasion! Tickets are only $10 each. Contact Karen Donohue for tickets.

Looking forward, homelessness is not going away, and collectively we must identify new ways to reach and assist the homeless and make them self-sufficient and successful. The TBE volunteers have been very generous with delicious, healthy meals, time and donations, but there is no end in sight.


Leigh Freeman

TBE IHN Coordinator



Karen Donohue

IHNSC – Director of Volunteer Services



Originally published in the November-December 2020 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.