By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Goodbye” is a good thing at Family Promise of Seattle.
They are about to bid farewell to another one of the newly homeless families they have helped since reopening their unique community-partnership shelter program two months ago.
This Friday, though, they hope to say “hello” to you – and your family – as Grammy-nominated musician Justin Roberts (with his Not Ready for Naptime Players) comes to West Seattle for a benefit concert. A big fall benefit is on the drawing board, too, we learned in a conversation with FP’s executivedirector Norman Schwamberg, to see how things have been going since they reopened.
As chronicled here over the past year, Family Promise reluctantly put itself on hiatus almost exactly one year ago till it could raise enough money to fund half a year of a sustainable operation – with a fulltime case manager as well as an executive director.
That has made a difference, Schwamberg says. “We’ve had one family placed in transitional housing after 3 or 4 weeks – usually, it takes about 70 days.” The case manager’s job is to help match that family with resources including housing, job-hunting, and more.
Family Promise’s two staffers work out of the organization’s nondescript little day center in a former multiplex owned by neighboring West Side Presbyterian Church north of The Junction. Families who are currently in the program are brought there in the morning, to have a “home base” for the day. Then at 5 pm, they are taken to the church that is serving a weeklong rotation as host; they will be provided there with a place to sleep or the night, as well as dinner and breakfast.
Ten congregations are currently participating as hosts, Schwamberg says, but they would like to have more; only one dropped out during the program’s months-long hiatus, and not because they stopped helping, but because they are offering shelter to homeless people in another way. With the current lineup, each congregation provides shelter and food for a family for one week, every 10 weeks.
The most-unique aspect of the Family Promise program is that a family can stay together while in need of shelter, while most other programs – if they even have room – separate the male adult from the rest of the family.
Who are the people they help? “Every kind of circumstance,” says Schwamberg. “Lost their job, lost their housing, domino effect, catastrophic illness … a few years ago, when people have that kind of circumstance, transitional stable housing was a lot more available, but (now) things are backed up, there are waiting lists, we just keep adding to it. The problem is still growing.”
And they are geared for families “whose situation has recently changed,” as opposed to “chronically homeless.” Family Promise is considered an “emergency shelter,” not a longterm solution. “We have 90 days to try to find families with children some kind of stable housing.”
And without a case manager, as was the case before their hiatus, that was more difficult: “I doubt we would have had families leaving within just a few weeks; if you’re only here part time, things fall through the cracks. .. Every family that comes to us has a variety of needs. (We find out) are they accessing all the resources through either social service or public agencies, food stamps, we can walk them through that … if they have health issues, we are able to put them into contact with clinics, and so on. We had an occasion where we had a young boy with emotional problems; we were able to work with an agency for counseling. One of our families had young girls going back to school, but didn’t have clothes – we got donations, got them registered for school.”
In case you wondered, they don’t need donations of items such as clothes – they are working with existing ways to tap into that (for example, if a family has a baby or child who needs diapers, WestSide Baby) – but they do need money for the operating budget. And that’s where not only this Friday’s event – no advance ticket sales, donations at the door – comes in, as well as another fundraiser that Schwamberg says is now being planned: The second annual Comfort Food Throwdown.
The first one last November was a hit, and this one is scheduled for November 5th at the St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church hall. May sound like a long time off, but that’s less than three months. Participating churches “will provide their famous comfort food”; you get to judge. “It’s our way of reminding (you) that homeless people are still going hungry in our community.” And as fall/winter approaches, so does the urgency of keeping them out of the cold.
Feeding and housing families is a passion for Family Promise; Schwamberg didn’t expect to find himself in this position after 30 years of working with nonprofits in Western Washington, which was looking only for “interim” help – “but one thing led to another, so here I am a year later,” he smiles. “The need was there. I had some skill and knowledge to offer. And, they asked me.”
Now, he and Family Promise are asking you – help them stay open. While they raised enough, barely, to meet their goal for reopening two months ago, they need to keep it going. Compared to some organizations, it’s a relatively small operating budget, because of the unique partnership model with congregations providing the actual shelter. But it’s enough to help them keep dozens of families from falling into chronic homelessness.
Schwamberg summarizes: “If you believe in ‘family values’ — keeping the famliy together — Family Promise should be something you support or are in favor of.”
You can do that this Friday night at 6:30, at the Justin Roberts concert at Fauntleroy UCC Church, 9140 California SW – donations at the door ($10 adult/$5 child/$5 family suggested but they’d be thrilled with more) – and again at the Comfort Food Throwdown on November 5, more details to come. Other ways to help are listed here. And when pressed on the point of “are you SURE you don’t need donated items?” Schwamberg did mention they could use a new computer/printer so the families at the day center could use it.