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Interfaith Hospitality doubles capacity to serve homeless in churches

With housing tight, Interfaith Hospitality of Spokane has added three transitional housing units to double its capacity to serve homeless families and help stabilize life for their children.

Madelyn Bafus
Madelyn Bafus said remodeled kitchen at Interfaith Hospitality's office and day center means families can cook.

Two units are rented through Spokane Housing Ventures, paid through a grant from the City of Spokane.  The third unit was acquired through a partnership with Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in July, made possible by donations from individuals and churches.  This is a large home that can provide housing for a large family.

From July 2008 to June 2009, the program provided 3,171 bed nights, a count of each individual staying one night.

New host churches to the program are the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Millwood Community Presbyterian and First Free Evangelical Church, bringing the number of host congregations to 12 and support churches to 18. 

Host churches open rooms in their building to families from one Sunday evening to the following Sunday morning.  Church members open their hearts to families, providing not only a place to eat but also meals, said Madelyn Bafus, executive director and case manager.

“Families sleep in roll-away beds, which have been used for seven years and need to be replaced,” she said, adding that a recent grant will make that possible.  “New beds should be delivered just before Christmas.”

Support churches help by providing food, hospitality and overnight volunteers.

Interfaith Hospitality partners with Union Gospel Mission Women’s and Children’s Crisis Shelter to provide case management to families who are motivated and ready to move forward in finding housing, employment and services they need, she said.

Since July 2008, the office and day center have been housed at 608 S. Richard Allen Ct. Their new facility includes a full kitchen for families to use to cook a favorite meal.  Next door is the Emmanuel Center, which houses a day-care facility, and many of the families have enrolled their children there.  That means they can go to appointments without taking their children with them.

Many churches have been involved since the program opened its doors in 1997, said Madelyn, who started first as a volunteer through her church, Spokane Valley United Methodist, and then as a board member.  She still serves as an overnight volunteer when families are at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Spokane Valley.  Her church is a support church for St. Mary’s.

“Funding could be stressful, but I’ve found it always comes in.  God does provide, but it is always in God’s timing.  One time when we were struggling a $5,000 grant from Providence Health Services through Holy Family Hospital came in two months early,” she said. “What a blessing it was.”

Madelyn said the program has a “good success rate” and maintains rapport with other agencies and service providers. 

One outlet for families is the Voiceless Homeless Choir, which rehearses Monday evenings.  Families present and past participate in the choir. For information on the choir, call 448-1311.

Madelyn said families need supportive, affordable housing, GEDs, employment and medical services.  Many live on $453 a month from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

By housing families in their buildings or providing support services, churches become aware of families’ needs, stories and struggles, she said.

Interfaith Hospitality of Spokane works with families who are proactive and focused, who want help and are willing to work to move forward, Madelyn explained. In addition to being motivated, families must follow the guidelines set by Interfaith. 

“Guests need to be ‘clean and sober.’  We do random drug tests,” she said.

“To protect children, volunteers must pass a Washington State Patrol background check,” she said.

A church may host up to three families, up to a total of 14 people. 

Given that the cost of housing one person one night in a shelter ranges from $16 to $50, Madelyn said, the value of the service the churches provide is worth more than $100,000 a year.

The 30 churches absorb any costs for housing the families.

“Beyond the financial value, members of congregations provide people who care and people to engage in conversations,” said Madelyn, who still volunteers “because I feel it’s important for me to know what the families are experiencing in the churches.

“For members of my church, it’s a proactive mission, a way to be the hands and feet of Christ,” she said.  “It’s the road Christ has led me down.  I have a job I love, and I feel God put me here.

“God brings people in the door, as if saying, ‘These are my children.  Help them!’” she added.

Interfaith Hospitality provides shelter for an average of 45 days per family, but will not send them back to be homeless.  A few have stayed longer until they have what they need to go on.  Parents spend the day looking for housing, jobs and benefits to move them into stable homes, jobs and incomes to support their families.

The program has increased the amount of its grant request from the City of Spokane, to provide classes on anger management, parenting, nutrition and health care on the first four Sundays of each month at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.  Classes repeat every three months.  The classes are for families in its shelter, in its transitional housing and women at Union Gospel Mission’s Women’s and Children’s Crisis Shelter.

Madelyn said that the classes will help families reduce visits to emergency rooms, decrease their medical bills, help them understand how to use food stamps to have good nutrition and help them manage anger so they keep jobs.

“Many people wonder why low-income and homeless families struggle to find jobs and homes,” she said, explaining:  “They rely on the bus system to go to meetings at the Department of Social and Health Services, and to apply for jobs, look for housing and keep appointments.  A family may spend most of the day traveling, depending on the bus schedule.”

For information, call 747-5487 or email office@ihn.org

 

Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree