Head Of Ridgewood Nonprofit Champions Bergen’s Homeless Families

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — When she shows up at work in Ridgewood every day, Kate Duggan runs a massive effort to lift homeless working families into a different life.

Kate Duggan in the Nancy S. Woods Family Center at Family Promise of Bergen County in Ridgewood.
Kate Duggan in the Nancy S. Woods Family Center at Family Promise of Bergen County in Ridgewood. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

The executive director of Family Promise of Bergen County on Dayton Street points to statistics to tell the story:

  • More than 5,000 volunteers.
  • More than 1 million free meals served at the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services in Hackensack.
  • Eighteen to 22 families helped at any given time.
  • Seventy-four congregations in Bergen providing temporary shelter
  • Three – and soon four – transitional apartments.

Family Promise distinguishes itself by sticking with its families over time.

“We decided not to be a Band-Aid® but to commit to people in the long term,” Duggan said.

“We identify the reasons why a family became homeless in the first place – and try to address those.”

The typical response to homeless families is to give them temporary rental assistance, she said.

That works for folks who were once situated nicely on the economic ladder but got knocked off by some setback: an illness, maybe, or a job loss.

But that’s not who Family Promise of Bergen County serves.

“Primarily, we see single women with children,” Duggan said. “They tend to be undereducated with limited skills.

“Many come to us making $10-$12 an hour. Frankly, a family needs to make at least double that to make it in Bergen County.”

A terrifying new trend has emerged: homeless moms in their 40s who always could provide for themselves but now can’t.

Family Promise intervenes on many fronts, including education and job training, to change the trajectory of these lives.

It’s not easy in a place where issues around affordable housing, housing vouchers, domestic violence and mental health can factor in.

But Duggan, formerly an audiologist, loves what she does.

Thirteen years ago, she made her career transition almost mystically.

“I call it divine orchestration,” she said.

For years, she’d volunteered at Family Promise’s yearly Thanksgiving feast.

But she kept having a recurrent thought: do more.

One morning her husband was leaving for work when she I told him, “I’m getting a job working with the homeless today.”

“I had no intention of going out to look for one,” she said. “I just knew.”

Two hours later, the phone rang. It was Family Promise with news of a job opening as its volunteer director.

The rest is history.

It helps to have made the transition as she did, she said.

Whenever she has a rough day, she reminds herself: I’m supposed to be here.

Family Promise is looking for companies willing to provide its clients with training and internships. To learn more, call Duggan at 201-833-8009.

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