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Voices of Family Promise

  • T.J. Putman

It’s hard to believe that less than two weeks ago I was playing basketball outside with my two nephews. It seems like the year 2020 is teaching us that any situation can transform in an instant.

The Wildfires brought devastation to so many of us, and I’m thankful that the only thing my family lost is some park time. We don’t have official numbers yet, but many of our neighbors in Marion County lost so much more—they lost their homes.

A disaster like the wildfires takes our housing crisis response to a new level. Right now, hotels in our area are at capacity as fire refugees sort out their next steps. Salem First Presbyterian Church, The State Fairgrounds, and United Way have all stepped in to provide emergency relief to people who have been driven out of—or who have permanently lost—their homes. At Family Promise, we’re taking a deep breath in the smoke-filled air to assess how we should respond. To make sense of this, we need to focus our response, like many organizations did before us, on the ‘three R’s’ of disaster management: relief, recovery, rebuild.

Relief - The first and most urgent step in disaster response is the immediate provision of community needs. We’re here right now, and our community is meeting the relief need by providing shelter and food.

If you want to help, check with United Way and their needs list. If you have relationships with other organizations, connect with them to see what they can offer in terms of support. Put calls out to others who might be able to help with needed donations. The fires are devastating, but it’s encouraging to see how our community responds when people need it most.

Recovery - For many families impacted by the fires, homeowner’s insurance and FEMA will be able to jump in and help with extended motel costs, cleanup, and funding for rebuilding. For many renters and low-income families, that isn’t the case.

For the past couple years, Family Promise has been able to provide one-time emergency rental assistance for families who needed a little help. We’re going to continue this program, and if a family impacted by the fire needs deposit or rent assistance, we should be able to help.

Rebuild - Restoring communities like Detroit, Gates, Mill City, Stayton and Silverton to their previous strength is the longest step on a long post-disaster road. Since the Red Cross typically provides short-term assistance, our role at Family Promise in rebuilding is critical. We’re seeking funding and asking people like you to help. We need resources to restore housing for our lower income neighbors. For some this will start with emergency shelter, and it will take time to rebuild rental housing. For others, it will take a few months of rental assistance to stabilize their situation.

COVID-19 will complicate our community’s recovery and rebuilding efforts, but we can do it. Over 10,000 of our neighbors have been positively impacted by the volunteers and congregations of Family Promise. We are uniquely equipped to face the housing challenges that lie ahead. Won’t you join us and make sure that every child who lost their home can once more sleep with a roof over their head?

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  • T.J. Putman

As Family Promise looks at our role in advocacy around the COVID-19 pandemic, we consistently see the intersection between homelessness, education and child care. The fact is, families have particularly struggled to make ends meet while caring for their families. Over and over I see that

. (We changed names for privacy.)

Take Jennifer, after her home situation became dangerous, she needed to quickly leave with her son Aiden. Prior to the pandemic, this would have been hard enough, but the childcare center in Salem where Jennifer used to place Aiden while she worked is no longer able to care for him. As a result, she has had to balance her conflicting housing, work, and childcare priorities alone. It couldn’t be done. Sadly, Jennifer lost her job.

Jennifer’s story is not unique. Even before 2020, Oregon had a reputation for having poor access to child care where long wait-lists and high demand contributed to expensive services and, sometimes, a challenging lack of availability. Now, childcare centers must limit how many children they manage at once while staff must acquire new expertise on the fly. The costs of gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer eat into the bottom line of these businesses, but most can’t afford to hire additional workers while making it affordable for families.

This is why childcare is becoming more expensive and difficult to find than ever before. Even families who have been on waiting lists for months are being turned away and priced out. For a two-parent, two-income, housed family, this alone can present an insurmountable obstacle to financial stability.

Affordable childcare is one reason that parents, especially mothers, are currently dropping out of the workplace to take care of their children. A parent’s departure from the workforce is not just a temporary hit to a family’s income. Even when it is possible to return to a competitive career after an absence, there is no way to make up the opportunity cost of raises, promotions, experience gathered, and reputation earned. The effect on a family already grappling with homelessness can be profound.

The majority of single-parent families are also headed by women, meaning that many such families rely on childcare both for their income and to ensure that their own children are safe during the workday. When there’s no home to keep the children in, childcare becomes even more critical. The salaries for these jobs have never been high, but they are critical resources in more ways than one. For many families, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is secondary to the immediate danger to their livelihood that inadequate child care represents.

Economic recovery from COVID-19 must include access to child care. That much is clear from the tragedies that we see each day at Family Promise. However, the child care system in Oregon was broken already. No system that crumbles under pressure is strong enough to assist the most vulnerable among us. Those of us who can empower better child care have a responsibility to do so to the greatest extent of our abilities. To do any less is to ensure that families with housing instability continue to struggle up the mountain of economic stability.

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The Mid-Willamette Valley has been a growing hotspot of homelessness and housing instability even before the COVID-19 pandemic. For a number of years, a drive downtown showed clear evidence that our community does not have an adequate system of supports for our homeless neighbors. The visual heartbreak is backed up by the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) that Congress receives from HUD. It shows that Oregon leads the nation in terms of unsheltered families.

I’m scared it’s going to get much worse.

Response to the COVID-19 health crisis has caused formerly stable jobs to wither or disappear completely. Families that were once marginally unstable can no longer pay the rent, and families that have a roof over their heads are one small financial incident away from losing their home. We now face a looming eviction crisis unlike anything we have ever seen before. I’m worried that more children are going to sleep outside this winter.

I don’t say the following lightly: our decisions in the upcoming months will impact a generation.

An executive order from early April has prevented landlords from evicting tenants in Oregon until after September 30th. Earlier this week, Governor Brown, the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human services extended the moratorium until December 31st. Without a significant financial investment, the new year may bring a wave of evictions unlike anything we have seen before. Our economically vulnerable neighbors and their children must be defended from a fiscal fallout that is not their fault and not of their making.

Avoiding eviction and keeping families housed makes good financial sense. Our model at Family Promise of the Mid-Willamette Valley has good data that shows actual costs for prevention, shelter, and long-term support. Over the past four years, we have found that it costs about $153 per year to keep a child housed. Compare that to an average of $4,500 we must spend every time we rehouse a homeless family. If that same family becomes chronically homeless, stabilizing that household costs close to $15,000 per year. That figure is just a fraction of the long-term costs of homelessness to the public. In addition, industry data shows that there is no discernible difference in rent collection rates in states with eviction moratoriums still in place and those whose moratoriums have expired.

To meet this impending crisis, we need compassion and caring for every member of our community. I ask you to support shelters and service providers like Family Promise so we can amplify our work. Talk to law makers and urge them to continue the moratorium on evictions, to continue rental assistance that keeps families housed, and to enact legislation that protects renters.

If you want to help, please contact us at If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please reach out to

COVID-19 has altered our way of life; don’t let it negatively impact the lives of vulnerable Oregon families forever.

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