By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
We were sitting down at a Delridge coffee shop with Laura Bermes from the board of Family Promise of Seattle – the West Seattle-headquartered shelter for homeless families, profiled here previously – for what we had envisioned as a simple “how are things going?” story, when she dropped a bombshell: Family Promise has just closed its doors to go “on hiatus,” and won’t reopen until it has raised at least $90,000.
That means, Bermes says, there is currently no shelter for homeless families between downtown Seattle and Kent.
This is not just a matter of closing a facility and laying off some staff – Family Promise has hundreds of volunteers because of a unique partnership with 18 congregations, including several outside West Seattle. It does not have a physical overnight shelter, but rather rotates families between those partners’ churches, one week at a time, with each partner housing and feeding the family during “their week” – not proselytizing, simply serving, and caring.
These aren’t chronically homeless families – but rather, the newly homeless. We took a closer look at Family Promise back in fall 2008, not long after they had opened a day center in a California SW home rented to them by a nearby church.
The volume of clients they have been able to handle at any one time is small because of the operating logistics, but they still have served more than 100 people, including 60 children, according to Bermes, who says a family’s average stay in the program is 66 days, while they get help finding employment and housing. “It costs about $5,000 to $7,000 to get a family from homeless to housed,” she explains – not exorbitant when you consider what the cost of chronic homelessness for that family might be, both in dollars and in intangibles. She also explains that the program has been open, uniquely, to “nontraditional families” as well as “traditional.”
During the “hiatus,” they are keeping their interim director Norman Schwamberg officially employed, albeit on “quarter time” – they can’t raise money without staff. And Bermes says that’s one thing the board has decided – to run properly, Family Promise needs at least a full-time staff of two – a full-time director and full-time case manager; they’d had two half-time employees in those jobs.
How are they going to get the money they need to open? Bermes says Family Promise gathered its participating congregations together and “asked for their support in working this out.” Next, they are assembling a comprehensive fundraising plan, doing something Family Promise has never done before – “big events.” But Bermes says every little bit helps. Celebrating her birthday recently, she asked friends and family to donate to Family Promise instead of spending money on gifts for her – and that brought in $1,000. She says a longtime volunteer in the group is about to celebrate a milestone birthday and plans the same thing for her party.
But for now, while Family Promise of Seattle struggles to get out of its own crisis – to “pull it together and reopen stronger,” as Bermes puts it – what hurts most is being unable to help families: “Closing our doors feels bad, because there are families (in need) out there – family homelessness is on the rise.” She says two families were in the program when they closed their doors. She knows housing was found for one – but isn’t sure about the other.
And now, it’s the organization’s turn to search for help – for itself. We asked what’s needed, besides money (you can donate online): They’re looking for board members, even “temporary” ones who can help with the current focus on fundraising, so there are more than seven people on the board working to get Family Promise open again; if you have “experience with major fundraising events,” they’d love to talk to you too.
“We’ve put too much energy into this to quit, so we’re going to work something out,” Bermes vows. If you can help by volunteering, the contact information is on the right side of the Family Promise home page; to donate money, online or by mail, go here.