West Seattle-based Family Promise closes doors, hopes to reopen

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.

13 Replies to "West Seattle-based Family Promise closes doors, hopes to reopen"

  • cathyw August 19, 2010 (9:19 am)

    No money for the homeless, but billions for Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • JanS August 19, 2010 (9:56 am)

    no money for the homeless, but billions for the banks, car companies, etc. etc. Priorities are skewed, IMO. I’m sure not all feel that way, but it’s true. The cuts that our Gov. just made? They affect the lowest in our state…it’s very sad what we have become.

    There but for the grace of…keep remembering that…

  • coffee August 19, 2010 (10:41 am)

    I am the president of a non profit board that works with homeless and people with more than one physical, mental, and medical issues, and it is not an easy thing to do. I will say, being involved with the board that I am involved with is the most rewarding non paid work I have ever done. My agency serves 18 people who without our help would be living on the streets and draining resources at Harborview daily. Fundraising in today’s times is more than difficult. I would encourage anyone and everyone to reach out to the smaller non profit agencies that our community has and lend a hand, a dollar, a bag of unused items from your home, grab a $25.00 gift card at the store next time you are there, etc. These small items are huge items to these agencies. While I personally have not much money, I find the money to donate every month to an agency. Skip a few trips for coffee and put that money into that gift card. While board service is not for everyone, it is a very rewarding experience. I will also comment, most non profits expect a financial contribution from their board members, and also expect for you to do fundraising, or sometimes called friend raising. Putting on a major event is very time consuming and costly. My agency does 1 every year which I chair. Again, its an amazing event, and we are lucky that we raise enough money to cover expenses. Just remember next time you are in line at the store buying something nice, there is someone else who cannot afford a simple daily needed item. Many people are in this spot because they have lost their job and they never intended to end up this way. I know what its like, I have been in that spot.

  • SomeGuy August 19, 2010 (10:44 am)

    Agree with CathyW and JanS. Sorta half-joking but maybe the Gates Foundation could scrounge around their parking lot and find $90K?

  • Christy August 19, 2010 (10:47 am)

    I just made a donation. As an atheist, I’m glad to see that churches are helping with this problem. I see all the beautiful church buildings in West Seattle and think what a waste that they sit empty 6-1/2 days a week. If they are living up to their faith, this should be their full time duty.

  • beaglenut August 19, 2010 (10:59 am)

    I just donated too.

    WSB – you should push for this because it’s such a worthy cause. Let me know if I can help publicize.

  • Donna B August 19, 2010 (11:39 am)

    Maybe we should talk to the folks who donated for the fireworks show. This community CAN rally!

    • WSB August 19, 2010 (11:46 am)

      Any fundraiser ideas people have – we do our best to vigorously promote ways to help good causes and would do the same here. From my conversation with Laura, though, the people-power she speaks about appears to be their most urgent need. If you can not just throw out an idea, but roll up your sleeves and join them even temporarily as a fundraising volunteer or even temporary board member – she spoke frequently of how the seven board members really need help to get FP open again – TR

  • Thistle August 19, 2010 (2:12 pm)

    Not sure what church is being referred to because last time I checked, the West Seattle churches that I know do not sit empty for 6 1/2 days out of the week. The congregation that I attend holds daily mass and other religious ceremonies within its walls as well as serving as a daily meeting place for any number of groups (religious and non-religious) including community service orgs, religious studies, day care, teen and senior social clubs, etc.. They hold soap kitchens, gardening classes, continuing education seminars and even host a few neighborhood council groups. Wish some people would do a little research; perhaps talk to a few people before making blanket comments…

  • coffee August 19, 2010 (4:09 pm)

    SomeGuy, unfortunately the Gates Foundation does little funding in the State of Washington. Their prime funding is overseas.

  • laura August 19, 2010 (9:26 pm)

    Thank You WSB for this relevant story! Family Promise does need the help of our community to live up to the “Promise”… the PROMISE that children and their parents do not have to walk alone through crisis. the PROMISE that volunteers can make a substantial difference by making a meal or even by doing laundry. the PROMISE that we as a community can actually do something about homelessness – that no child has worry about where they will be sleeping at night. If you are wondering how you can help – donations are accepted online at http://www.familypromiseofseattle.org. here are some other suggestions: 1. throw a party and ask your guests to donate – a board member or volunteer would be happy to speak about the program. 2. join the board or our fundraising committee and help us reach our goals. 3. ask to make a meal or spend the night at one of our hosting congregations once we open our doors again… there are many opportunities to help and we would love to have you on our team! Feel free to call if you want to talk about helping out… 206-219-9173. Thanks!!! Laura Bermes (board member for Family Promise of Seattle)

  • Silly Goose August 20, 2010 (7:44 am)

    @ Christy most of the Churches do not sit empty my Parish for one has housed the homeless families associated with family promise when we could get volunteers to come in and stay the night with them, donate dinners, luches etc. It is not finding facilities to house them in it is finding volunteers to donate their time!!!

  • Julia August 20, 2010 (8:39 pm)

    As an active member in a WS Church who helps host the Family Promise homeless families (Alki UCC), I can say that this program is an awesome, hands-on opportunity to be involved. I truly hope we can raise the needed money! There are very few programs in Greater Seattle for homeless families, most programs separate the men and women…The last homeless family consisted of 3 generations: G’ma (55), Mom (23), and 2 little ones. In their only “home” (old van) lived the family dog and cat. We have also hosted single fathers with kids, single mothers with kids, gay couples with kids, and 2-parent heterosexual families.

    The greatest part of being involved is meeting the families. And the greatest need now is for money to keep the program operating. The churches all donate the rooms/heat/food/beds/security/and
    friendship. The money goes towards two staff and the Daycenter where care planning helps move the families to more permanent housing.

    Thanks for your support and encouragement.

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