Joyce Shoudy, Executive Director of Family Promise of Knoxville

Your organization helps families who are first-time homeless?

They are situationally homeless—not chronically homeless, and many of them are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

How do you find out about them?

They're sent to us by other shelters, or pediatricians or schoolteachers call. Sometimes past guests will call [and let us know about someone new].

So you do operate a shelter?

We operate non-emergency shelters. We're a network of congregations that house families for one week a quarter—Sunday school rooms may turn into bedrooms. The churches are where the families get their meals, they'll sleep there, and have fellowship with volunteers. We also run a day shelter.

How many do you serve?

Four families max at one time, a total of 14 people within those families. We serve about 16 families average a year; they can stay up to 90 days.

Are your 12 host congregations and dozens of other supporting congregations any religion in particular?

No, we have everything— from Catholic, Episcopalian, and Methodist to Unitarian Universalists, the Knoxville Jewish Alliance. The Knoxville Turkish Cultural Center just joined, and they only opened two weeks ago.

Have your donations dropped with the economy?

Significantly. And it's been really bad since the earthquakes in Haiti. I don't begrudge the money they need, but the charitable money for us has dried up.

Why are the volunteer interactions so important?

These people feel so isolated, so much like failures. I've had moms come in and just sit and cry; they feel like they've failed their children. A lot of what they need is someone to accept them, show them that this isn't the end, that they don't have to be homeless forever. Volunteers all know these homeless families are just like you and I—it could happen to anyone.

To purchase tickets to the Family Promise benefit, the Ruby Slipper Ball on April 17, or to donate, consult the website: