By Ellen Spitaleri
Currently the lack of affordable housing and the homeless situation are two challenging issues in Portland.
“We’re all concerned and not sure how to help,” said Beckie Lee.
She is the Board Chair of Family Promise of Metro East, a new organization with a mission to help families experiencing housing instability achieve sustainable independence through a community-based model.
“Each night in Portland, families with children are sleeping in their cars, couch-surfing with friends, or in some cases, sleeping outside. At the same time, we have churches throughout our community with space that’s not used at night and volunteers within the congregation who are called to help,” she said.
“The crux of what we are building,” she said, “is an interfaith hospitality network consisting of 13 host congregations paired with two support congregations,” in NE and SE Portland.
Host churches will provide overnight accommodations, meals and support for families experiencing homelessness, with at least one child under the age of 18, she added.
Families will stay overnight for one week at one church in the network, then move to the next church in the network, until they are able to get back into permanent housing.
The support congregations are ones that do not have the physical space to host, but can provide financial support, volunteers or other resources.
The network will serve three to four families at a time, up to 14 people. Families will rotate among the host congregations for a safe place to sleep at night, then transition to one centrally-located day center that provides showers, laundry facilities, computer access and a place to receive mail.
Families must go through a referral and application process in order to be admitted to the network, Lee said, noting that in Multnomah County that often begins with a call to 211.
“Resources already exist (for families) to get out of homelessness and we will be part of the network of service providers in the community,” she added.
Family Promise is a national organization with 200 affiliates in the US and Family Promise of Metro East is the local branch currently in the formation stage, Lee noted.
“Our goal is 13 host congregations and we currently have nine,” she said, adding the organization plans to be up and running in March of 2022.
What she likes best about the Family Promise model is that “it puts the resources that we already have to work, (including) buildings and volunteers. It is an opportunity to be involved in a meaningful, yet modest way and be part of the solution.”
Once the network is put in place, there will be plenty of volunteer opportunities for anyone in the community, including those who do not belong to a congregation.
Volunteers can bring meals to host churches, help out with activities for families and set up and clean up after the overnight stays.
Host churches will provide an evening meal, breakfast and a to-go lunch, while Family Promise will provide transportation to the day center.
“We are exploring using Uber or Lyft as possible cost-efficient ways” to transport families to and from the day center, Lee said.
“We are looking for additional congregations, organizations and individual volunteers to partner with us,” she added.
People can donate money on the website to financially support the organization, which is a 501(c)3.
Sunday, December 19, 3 pm the organization is also holding a benefit concert. The variety show will feature local performances of music and dance ensembles.
The event will take place at First Central Christian Church, 1844 SE Cesar Estrada Chavez Blvd. Admission is free (suggested donation of $25) with all donations going towards Family Promise of Metro East. Masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccination are required.
Saint David of Wales in Colonial Heights is one of the churches gearing up to be a host congregation in March 2022.
“We talked to our congregation in July and when we described the Family Promise program, they were really excited about it,” said Cass Cole, a member of the Vestry, a leadership team, and the shelter subcommittee at Saint David.
The church has a tradition of caring for the homeless in the neighborhood, she said, noting that Saint David’s has a Red Wagon program which offers clothing, personal hygiene items and food to the needy.
The church is laying the groundwork to be part of the Hygiene4All’s laundry project, which collects homeless people’s laundry, washes it and brings it back to them.
What Cole likes best about the Family Promise model is the fact that it has been successful in helping people find secure housing within a couple of months.
She said, “We care about homeless children and this is a special opportunity for the congregation to do something together.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at Saint David of Wales once the program is in place in March can email email@example.com.
For more information, visit Family Promise of Metro East at familypromisemetroeast.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Partner congregations include Ascension Catholic Church, Central Christian Church, Community of Christ, Family Pentecostal Church of God, Reedwood Friends Church, Grace Baptist Church, Portland Mennonite Church, Tabor Heights United Methodist Church, Grant Park Church, C3 Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church and Saint David of Wales.