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The little boy without a home hugged Patricia A. Kaiser whenever he saw her.

Ms. Kaiser finally asked his mother why.

"Because you made his mommy stop crying," was the reply.

Ms. Kaiser heads a network of 11 congregations and volunteers from at least 25 other churches that confronts the homeless problem two and three families at a time.

Homeless families stay with the Interfaith Hospitality Network until they get their feet on the ground and find a good, safe, affordable apartment.

"Not only do they help you get an apartment, but spiritually they help you. It's like a rebirth in your soul," said Margaret Newkirk. "If you would have met me a month and two weeks ago, I would have been a bucket of water. Now I'm stronger."

After a month-and-a-half with the network, Miss Newkirk and her son are ready to move into their new apartment. The only thing delaying them is her recovery from oral surgery she underwent
Wednesday. But even that has been a positive experience.

"When I had my surgery, Gary was there when I woke up. Linda was worried about me," she said, referring to Gary and Linda Tatu of Harvest House, which is hosting the families this week.

Miss Newkirk said her son, Patrick, even spent the night at the house of a friend he made at one of the host congregations.

Those staying with the network are called guests, not clients.

The network can accommodate up to 14 people at one time. More than 30 have come through the doors and moved into apartments since it began operating June 1. The network has been full since August.

"We've had to to turn people away," said Leonard F. Page, president of the network.

One family with disabled parents had been homeless for a year and their children had spotty attendance at school. Through the network, they found an apartment, and the children have attended the same school for two months.

"We find our victories are very, very small," Ms. Kaiser said.

Another family that came to the network after being firebombed out of their apartment found a new place to live after a volunteer drove them to see it one evening.

"They wouldn't have gotten that apartment without our volunteer picking them up that evening," she said.

During the day, the families' home base is the network center at 1092 Main St., where they can look for a job or housing or go to school or work. Their children attend school while younger children stay with their parents at the network.

In the evening, they are driven to the host congregation, where members make dinner for them and provide sleeping quarters. The volunteers also make breakfast and send along a bag lunch. Each week, a different congregation hosts the families.

Selina Hayes, who was making plans to secure an apartment last week, said the interaction between volunteers and guests broadens experiences and even helps with race relations.

"A lot of times in the city children don't get a chance to interact and realize everyone's the same," she said, adding, "My children were able to see deer for the first time. They saw a fox."

She said she was working while her four children attended school when they were forced out of their apartment because the house was foreclosed. They moved to the Salvation Army shelter and connected with the network when they had to leave the shelter.

"Everything is done out of the goodness of these volunteers' hearts," Ms. Hayes said.

"The first day in a new shelter is the worst day of your life," Ms. Kaiser said.

Parents often are fearful they'll be criticized for being bad parents if they go to a shelter, she said.

"One of the greatest concerns of parents who go homeless is the safety of their children," she said.

The network manages to provide a safe atmosphere for parents as well, and often lasting relationships are created. Families also see volunteers willingly giving their time, car rides, food, clothes and money, and that is not lost on guests.

"We've had guests help other guests clean their apartments," Ms. Kaiser said.

One guest told of riding on the bus when a man tried to get on but did not have enough money. She had an extra dollar and gave it to the man.

"This young mom had never given anyone anything except a hard time," Ms. Kaiser said.

Ms. Kaiser and a part-time worker are the only paid employees of the network. Expenses are low, but needs are high.

The host congregations are Faith United Methodist Church in Lancaster; Trinity Old Lutheran Church in Eggertsville; St. Matthias Episcopal Church in East Aurora; Kenmore Presbyterian Church; St. John's Lutheran Church in Williamsville; Orchard Park Presbyterian Church and St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in West Seneca.

Buffalo churches include Central Presbyterian Church; St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church; Harvest House of South Buffalo and a West Side cluster of Methodist churches.

Only families are accepted into the network, which does not take anyone with substance abuse or mental health problems.

"We're looking for families who are committed to turning their life around," Ms Kaiser said.

While it has been a busy half year, she expects to be even busier. The changes in the federal welfare programs are troubling for all providers, she said.

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