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Family Promise’s move gives space for expanding

Last October during Family Promise of Spokane’s 2013 Cardboard Box City fund raiser, Steve Allen looked across the street in the early morning from Highland Park United Methodist Church and saw the building at 904 E. Hartson.  A year later almost to the day, the building became the new home for Family Promise’s offices and day center.

Steve Allen, Family  Promise Spokane
Steve Allen is the new director of Family Promise of Spokane.

During October, about 60 volunteers donated 600 hours to help paint and remodel the building, and move a few blocks from 608 S. Richard Allen Ct.

In Spokane, Family Promise began 17 years ago as Interfaith Hospitality Network of Spokane.  It shelters 15 families a year, with a rotation of 12 congregations opening their buildings for the families to stay overnight for a week at a time.  Twenty support congregations assist with meals, conversation and overnight presence.

 The program continues to serve 40 former homeless families, helping them meet needs through the Department of Health and Social Services and other programs.

For Steve, who began as director in August 2013, the program represents hope.

“When families have hope, they flourish,” he said.

During the spring, Family Promise won $25,000 from the Windemere Foundation Charity Challenge, by drawing the most votes on Facebook.  Thrifty Rental Car donated a van.

In June, Steve saw the 1984 building was still for sale.  He negotiated for a $30,000 down payment and monthly payments that equal their rent.  With a capital campaign, he hopes to pay the mortgage off in 15 years.

“With a small budget, our niche is investing deeply in a few families. About 85 percent of the 100 families we helped in the last five years are still in homes,” he said.

The new location is in walking distance of resources families use, including Work Source and Goodwill Industries.

Steve said “hope” may be as simple as bus passes, soap, shampoo, toiletries or diapers now available in a closet off the entry.

“Sometimes people may not be able to go for a job interview because they have no shampoo and no place to shower,” Steve said.  “The new building has two showers family members can use to get ready for work or interviews.”

In the entry, Brooke Price, a friend of Family Promise, painted a tree on the wall.  Its roots form the word, “hope,” where the names of donors and volunteers are written.

“Donors and volunteers may not be seen, but like a tree, the families will not grow without them,” he said.

The names for former homeless families will be written on leaves as they leave the program.  Although they leave the program, they are still connected.

Often we become the only family these families have,” Steve said.  “They come back for advice, resources, toiletries or bus passes.”

Because the building was formerly a group home for developmentally disabled adults, it has showers, a laundry and five bedrooms, which are used as day rooms, play rooms and homework rooms. 

The building also has a computer area, dining room, a kitchen and a basement apartment.

“It’s a home away from home.  Rather than all families spending time in one room at the day center, there are separate rooms,” he said.

The new building gives Family Promise space to expand from three to 12 host congregations in Spokane Valley, and add three more in Spokane, so there can be two “rotations.”  A rotation refers to each congregation hosting families for a week every three months.

In January and February, Steve met with the Greater Valley Support Network, which meets second Thursdays to share resources. 

“There is no family shelter in the valley, but 800 students are homeless,” Steve learned.

“We help three to four families at a time with case management, living with the families and identifying barriers that keep them homeless—illness or parenting.  We invest in the families,” he said.

About 600 volunteers help, supported by staff members Kermit Nelson, weekend coordinator; Renee Norris, case manager, and Susan Heitstuman, office manager.  Emma Gibbon, a senior at Whitworth, is an intern this year. 

Families arrive at churches for dinner at 5:30 p.m., stay overnight, eat breakfast and go back to the day center.  Volunteers from support churches cook meals, serve them and eat with the families.  Two stay overnight.  One drives the van.  There are 20 support churches.

The churches include eight United Methodist, nine Catholic, nine Presbyterian, and Baptist, Latter-day Saints, United Church of Christ and Episcopal churches.

“For some families, it’s the first time they have entered a church,” said Steve.  “They connect with volunteers. Some attend the churches.”

One member of a former homeless family is now Covenant United Methodist church’s Family Promise coordinator.

We see families connect and give back.  It breaks down walls.  Church members love unconditionally as they shelter, feed and care for people,” he said.

Steve was a youth pastor 10 years in Bellevue and Bellingham.  He earned a bachelor’s in creative writing in 1994 at the University of Washington.  Later he attended classes at Western Seminary in Portland and an online school in Indiana to earn a master of divinity in 2008.  From 2007 to 2012, he went through Action International of Seattle with his wife and five daughters to do leadership training at a Bible school for pastors in Lusaka, Zambia.

While on furlough, he spoke at a church in Coeur d’Alene.  As he left, he saw people arriving with suitcases to stay as part of Family Promise of North Idaho.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea for families to find shelter in a church and volunteers to help them,” he said.

Before leaving Africa, he decided to settle in Spokane and start a church.  His first year, Steve was intern at Soma Church that met in Central United Methodist Church.  The pastor there knew Family Promise needed a director and thought he’d be a good fit.

“I learned in Africa the importance of investing deeply in a few people for a long time,” Steve said.  “I love seeing the church care for the poor and homeless.   

“I went to Africa with ideas that I would change the world.  Soon I realized that I couldn’t fix poverty.  We need to invest in poor and suffering people for years,” he said.  “Services for the poor are helpful, but lasting change comes from loving people and working on the issues that create poverty.

“Poverty, hunger and struggle are similar in Africa and here, but vary in degree,” he said. “In Africa, poverty is in your face.  All the time, people ask for food.  I was fasting one day.  Seeing children in the street begging, I went to the store and gave them a bag of food.

“Tomorrow?” they asked.

“They meant they would be hungry again tomorrow and where would I be tomorrow?” he said. “Responding to poverty is more than providing food for one day.

“Here, there is suffering, but it’s hidden.  It’s not about just fixing families by giving them a home, but giving them a chance to gain skills to sustain their housing.  People here may sleep in a car, a motel or with a friend—always living in crisis.” 

Steve said homeless families he meets defy stereotypes. About 30 percent are homeless because of domestic abuse.  Many grew up in families with parents addicted to drugs or alcohol.  Some families do not know how to budget or pay bills.  Some fall behind because of a health crisis or losing a job.

“While some people on the street may not want to move into housing, many want opportunities,” he said.  “We invest in families who want to move out of homelessness.”

Steve sees families enter the program and in two to three weeks, “their souls begin to rest as they know they have a place and food.”

Family Promise and the Salvation Army are the only two agencies that shelter families.  Family Promise shelters people for as long as it takes—20, 45 or 115 days, Steve said..

In Spokane, he finds a strong sense of community and partnership among nonprofits, and finds many caring, compassionate volunteers who sacrifice their time.

Steve came to Spokane to plant a church that would care for the poor and homeless, and love their neighbors, not be concerned about itself as a church. Last spring he helped begin CTK Spokane, affiliated with Christ the King Community Church.  About 20 people meet for worship at the West Central Community Center.

For information, call 747-5487 or email director@familypromiseofspokane.org.



Copyright © November 2014 - The Fig Tree