Bozeman Daily Chronicle: June 23, 2015

The Unseen

Jamie Shumaker leaned forward in her chair and fought to keep her voice strong as she explained that her family became homeless after her father died.

While she spoke, her husband, Ben, sat listening quietly next to her in the living room of their small Bozeman apartment. The couple’s daughter played with a Slinky on the floor. Family photos and drawings, made by their three young children, ages 7, 6 and 4, dotted the walls.

The Shumakers found themselves scrambling for a place to stay on a chilly Friday evening in March last year. They had no driver’s licenses and no car. They didn’t have a penny to their names.

“It was really scary,” said Jamie, 25.

One of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population is families with children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But in an affluent town like Bozeman, people who live in poverty are often hidden.

The face of a poor person here is not best represented by the bearded man panhandling outside of Walmart. It’s your neighbor, your co-worker, or the kid sitting next to your child in the first grade. Bozeman’s poor are working families whose income may not be increasing with inflating costs.

“They are the folks who are working at a fast-food restaurant when you go to lunch,” said Heather Grenier, chief operations officer of the nonprofit Human Resource Development Council in Bozeman. “Really, it’s your workforce. Folks that are maybe in your retail industry, your customer service industries … So, people see them, but they don’t always equate them to having financial difficulties.”

After Jamie’s father died, the Shumakers moved in with Jamie’s aunt in her mobile home in Belgrade.

But that living situation didn’t last long. The owner of the mobile home park discovered the Shumakers were living in the over-crowded home and asked the family to leave.

“We didn’t have anywhere to go,” Jamie said.

Luckily, the Shumakers had heard of Family Promise of Gallatin Valley, a nonprofit that helps homeless families regain their independence. The family called for help.

“We didn’t really know what to expect or what was going to happen,” Jamie said. “It was a scary experience, but it helped us so much.”

Family Promise arranged for the Shumakers to sleep in area churches. The nonprofit works by having a network of about two dozen congregations and numerous volunteers who provide housing, meals, and other support to homeless families.

Family Promise helped Ben and Jamie get their driver’s licenses. The couple found jobs, took classes on budgeting, and the nonprofit gave them a 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity to share.

A generous donor offered to pay for Jamie to get her certified nursing assistant license. Jamie started taking classes and earned the license in about a month.

“We got a stable background,” Jamie said. “Something that when we left the program, we weren’t going to have a place to stay for awhile and then be homeless again.”

The Shumakers spent three months with Family Promise.

Now, they have a three-bedroom apartment. Jamie works at a nursing home and Ben works at a furniture warehouse. The kids are in elementary school and they like to ride bikes and play games with their friends. The family occasionally barbecues with other families that they met in Family Promise.

“If it wasn’t for Family Promise, we don’t know what we would have done,” Jamie said.

Amanda Ricker can be reached at or 582-2628. She is on Twitter at @amandaricker.

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