Emergency Housing Solutions
The typical day for a family in our shelter goes something like this: they start their morning early, often waking up at 6:00 in order to get kids ready, eat breakfast, and be out of the church by 7:00. Parents will often head back to the Day Center so that kids can catch their school bus on time. After that, parents will travel to work or stay at the Day Center to work with our case management team and search for jobs and housing. They also may have multiple appointments throughout the day, often using the bus for transportation. Parents generally make their way back to the Day Center by 3:30 to get kids off their school bus and ready them for the transition to the church. By 5:00, they are heading to the host church for a warm welcome, a meal, and some time to rest.
When a family joins our shelter program, they must quickly adjust to life in the Network. They balance work and school schedules with case management appointments and meals at the church, all while searching for housing. They are able to do this with the support of our host and supporting congregations and the people who volunteer over 18,500 hours annually. By having such a large network of dedicated volunteers, families are enveloped by caring, positive individuals working tirelessly to ensure they always feel at home.
If a family living paycheck to paycheck suffers a major illness, car accident, or job loss, it can immediately destabilize their housing and security. Without one-time financial help, they will be unable to pay their rent, ultimately resulting in an eviction and the forced loss of their home. The cost of a single intervention to keep a family in their home is significantly less than the cost of rehousing them. In addition to the financial cost, the destabilization caused by losing a home can be traumatic for both children and adults. Losing their home can have a negative impact on children’s educational outcomes and mental health.
Once a family becomes homeless, rehousing them becomes more difficult. If a family receives an eviction for not paying their rent, it will be on their record, making future landlords less likely to rent to them. They may end up owing large sums of money for legal and lease-breaking fees. Not having a home can also make keeping a stable job and income much more difficult. By stepping in and preventing the loss of a home, we can keep families safe and ensure that kids continue to wake up in their own beds.
Finding a Place
In today’s housing market, families need to be on top of their game in order to get keys to a place they can call home. They need a stable income, good rental and credit history, plenty of money for application fees, and the time to wait for an opening. The families in our program are lucky if they have even one of these in their favor. That’s where another level of our housing program steps in to give families a boost and complement the hard work they are already doing.
We call this program Fresh Start. It's not just rental assistance; anyone can fill out forms, check boxes, and hand out money. Instead, our mission is to build relationships. Through monthly meetings, we get to know the families: their stories, goals, barriers, and strengths. Each family is unique, so we tailor our intervention to fit their needs. One participant said, “the flexibility is what I liked best”. From weekend home visits to daily encouraging text messages, we are constantly helping participants move forward.
A key part of the housing puzzle is landlords. We build relationships by staying in contact with landlords before problems arise. By our guaranteeing part or all of the rent, landlords know they will be paid and can take chances on tenants with less than stellar applications. We also work with tenants to resolve complaints. While ultimately it is up to each family to maintain their stability, we ensure they have the tools to do so.
After weeks of looking, it’s move-in day! Volunteers jump into action, locating and delivering a kitchen table, beds, or a couch. Families appreciate the towels, dishes, and cleaning supplies that donors drop off in anticipation of the big day. Kids run through their new home, opening cupboards and touching new carpet. “Is this really ours?” they ask in disbelief. Thanks to Fresh Start, kids and their families now have stability and new opportunities.
Adults chatting, the delicious smell of warm food, children shrieking in delight — this is the backdrop for evenings at the hosting churches. We here at the Day Center also get this pleasure on Thursday nights, when volunteers and families gather for our weekly Life Skills classes, taught by a variety of staff and volunteers. In these classes, the parents learn about a variety of topics while the kids play with energetic staff.
The most popular topics are skills that parents can learn quickly and put to use right away: credit counseling, budgeting, and time management. Classes are tailored to the needs of the adults; for instance a class on getting a job might be morphed into job skills for those who are already employed, or a parenting class is modified for parents of toddlers versus teenagers. From healthy eating to first aid, Life Skills provides parents with tools and strategies to manage daily life.
One of the things parents like best about the classes is being in an environment with other homeless parents who understand what they are going through and can offer emotional support and empathy. For single parents (especially of little ones!), it’s also a time to have meaningful interactions with other adults while knowing their kids are safely cared for.
Pets with a Promise
When it seems like nothing else is going right, our pets provide us with a listening ear, unconditional love, and a fuzzy belly to rub. Kids learn important life lessons and gain best friends when there is a pet in their home. You can imagine how heart-wrenching the decision would be: to give up your four legged family member in order to secure shelter for your kids.
Luckily for our families, they no longer have to choose. Whether it is a dog, cat, tarantula, or guinea pig, their pet also has a safe, warm place where their family can maintain that special bond. With its cheerful yellow walls and specially painted dog run, the pet shelter is a unique benefit not offered by any other family shelter in Oregon. Dogs love having their own personal fire hydrant in the fenced run, and our guests can breathe easy knowing their best friend is right there, whenever they need a furry hug.
Pets are not just a compassionate afterthought. We strive to ensure families have what they need by networking with veterinarians and pet supply stores for discounts and donations. We have helped to supply everything from food to vet visits, flea treatment to leashes, litter to a little extra love. This helps families stay on track to their ultimate goal — getting back into their own home.
During their time at the shelter, parents and kids alike are driven toward one goal: getting into their own home. “I can’t wait until I have my own room,” is a common refrain. “I’m going to be so excited to sleep in!” say teenagers. But as the move-out date nears, anxiety can also set in. Parents worry what will happen if they fall on hard times again without the safety net of staff and volunteers supporting and encouraging them. They are often surprised and heartened to learn that leaving the program doesn’t have to mean goodbye.
The after care program enables us to keep in touch with families during the critical period between exiting the program and becoming established in the community. While families build friendships with neighbors, find a church to attend, get involved in after-school activities, and adjust to new routines, we are available to connect them with resources, help problem-solve issues that arise, and be a friend for the bumps in the road. We know our open door culture has an impact because families often swing by years later to donate clothes, introduce us to their new babies, or refer a friend in need. No family needs to feel that they are alone — this is our promise.
with All Programs
Children have a safe place to call home
Nights of shelter