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Hosting changes attitudes and puts faces on homeless people

Hosting homeless families overnight in their church buildings and sitting down to meals with them has changed mindsets of people in Spokane congregations about who is homeless and why.

“While some in the general population may wonder why people would let themselves become homeless, that attitude is minimal among the helpers,” said Madelyn Bafus, Family Promise director.

Churches transform Sunday school rooms into bedrooms after church Sunday to transform lives of homeless families. The next Sunday after families leave, the rooms are made ready for Christian education, and members take home laundry after church.

Family Promise volunteers
Cheri Olsen of Westminster United Church of Christ and Pam Emery set up buffet dinner

 

Through Family Promise of Spokane, formerly the Interfaith Hospitality Network, members of 12 host churches and 17 support churches gain insight into how people caught in a web of circumstances can become homeless.

 

Volunteers’ perspectives change

Pam Emery, coordinator of the hosting at Spokane Friends Church, which she has attended for 30 years, said that when she first became involved, she thought homeless people were lazy.

“Now I realize each family has a different story about the situations that happened in their lives,” she said.  “I have respect for families in Family Promise, because they are coping and trying to hold their families together.”

After retiring 12 years ago from 30 years of working with the phone company, the Spokane native was looking for ways to volunteer to help children.

Spokane Friends Church became a support church about 10 years ago, and seven years ago, they became a host church.

Pam, who was drawn to the church because it embraces people and helps them grow into faith without judgment, believes her calling and passion to assist with Family Promise comes from God. 

Her pastor, the Rev. Nick Block, said the church’s involvement has helped many members develop compassion and understand that “these are good people, not second class, and it takes courage to enter this program.”

It’s important to help the poor

Barbara Lund, a retired nurse, and a few other members of the Manito Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provide a meal every three months as a support church for the Cathedral of St. John.

“It’s important for the faith community to support good causes regardless of beliefs so we can help good people who, because of circumstances, are homeless and need help,” she said.

Since childhood when her mother gave food to people and had people over to dinner, Barbara has invited strangers to dinner, believing it’s important to help the poor.

It’s the fabric of church mission

The Rev. Gregg Sealey, pastor of Covenant United Methodist Church, said that the ministry of opening church doors to let people stay in the building involves vulnerability.

“It is now part of the fabric of our mission.  It’s not just opening our doors, but staying overnight and cooking meals,” he said

He said the experience has significant impact on families.  For one family, Covenant was their first host church.  They continued coming to worship after they moved to other host churches and are now in housing.  Last summer, on a church campout, they were baptized and now are among the servants helping with the program.

They told Gregg that they had not been exposed to a faith community before, and they felt so warmly welcomed and their eyes were opened to what a faith community could mean.

“I encourage people to put their faith into action, because people can share the stories of transformation that interest people in being involved,” Gregg said.  “Stories touch people’s hearts and minds more than talk of religious platitudes.”

It’s a tangible way to help

The Rev. Craig Goodwin said that in the five years Millwood Community Presbyterian Church has hosted, people in the congregation have appreciated having a tangible way to help people struggling with homelessness.

“It’s an overwhelming issue that Family Promise brings down to earth,” he said.  “As we provide a meal and sit down to get to know people, it’s a powerful experience.

“There’s something about welcoming people into our space, rather than going to help in a shelter,” he said.  “The act of hospitality is a good challenge.”

Millwood has no support churches, so it involves more than 50 volunteers.  Craig joins in, taking one overnight, driving the van or unloading beds.

He also pointed out that it’s more than coordinating volunteers to fill slots.  Each volunteer needs to be flexible and patient, because the lives of the families are unstable.

For information, call 747-5487 or email maddyb47@msn.com.