Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Alki UCC receives grant to address homelessness

Alki UCC has “the audacious dream of eradicating family homelessness,” said Cinda Stenger, chair of its outreach committee.

Alki UCC Tent in Chancel

For Advent, Alki set up a tent on their chancel instead of a traditional manger scene. Photo courtesy of Shannon Thomas

The church is one of 14 faith communities in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to receive a $10,000 from a Gates Foundation grant to Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry (STM) for the Faith and Family Homelessness Project to increase awareness, advocacy and care about homeless families in the Puget Sound area.

The STM and the Church Council of Greater Seattle (CCGS) will help people “envision a world where the cycle of family homelessness is broken through creating new relationships, platforms and models for faith-based advocacy.”

For 10 months, nine Christian, three Jewish and three Muslim communities in urban, suburban, ethnic and economically diverse areas are using their social and political power to change attitudes, behaviors, barriers and policies on family homelessness.

Alki plans education events to promote advocacy of policies to reduce homelessness.

Participating faith communities receive support from STM faculty and CCGS staff.  

The leadership team for this project at Alki—Cinda, Shannon Thomas, Kathy Ablott and Shannon Peterson—attended an April training session.

 As chair of the Alki outreach committee and someone “big on serving,” Cinda applied when she learned of the project, because Alki has been assisting Family Promise, serving meals at Tent City and Nickelsville, packing food at Northwest Harvest and mobilizing the community to do something about homelessness that addresses the causes.

One avenue for communicating about family homelessness is the project’s blog.

Shannon, housing case manager with the King County Adult Drug Diversion Court, assesses housing challenges of people graduating from that court.  While he serves mostly single adult males, he’s now helping more single parents.

Writing in the blog, he said recently that “obstacles to finding safe, affordable housing for these families are extraordinary, decreasing the likelihood that they will be able to find, be approved for, or sustain safe, affordable housing.”

He said families are among the most vulnerable in the homeless population, because their lives are filled with anxiety, stress and chaos, with little opportunity to plan or enact positive change.  With little time to rest, many relapse into drug abuse, mental illness or new criminal behavior. 

Shannon urges project communities to expand homeless ministries to include families in criminal justice systems or struggling with drug addiction.

“Many hold back from engaging in this ministry because of their misunderstanding about the impact of generational poverty on families,” he said.  “Our society, and many people of faith, believe once someone has broken the law, that person no longer deserves support.”

The tendency—counter to faith traditions of mercy and hospitality—is to punish, humiliate and ostracize such people, Shannon finds.  Many suffer from multi-generational abuse.  Children become trapped in homelessness, growing up to be homeless single parents.

“Drug abuse and criminal behavior are linked to housing instability, passed from generation to generation,” he said.  “Trafficking sex and drugs are survival skills—a system that delivers money to pay the rent.  Homeless families in the criminal justice system are some of our most marginalized.”

He calls for faith communities to be compassionate and see their behaviors in the context of systems of social and economic injustice.

Cinda said she hopes the project will help faith communities transform society through education, breaking down barriers that leave people stuck at “it’s a pity.”

“We want our church and community to hear the voices, see the faces, look in the eyes of homeless people to feel compassion and empathy,” she said.

Alki plans movies and discussions with experts on causes and with homeless people sharing their stories of sleeping in cars and showering at the Y.”

“The faith community has a unique voice to speak power,” Cinda said.  “When the city votes on a budget for transitional housing, we want 500 to come to ask for three times what they propose, speaking with intelligence and compassion to influence the vote.

“We also need to advocate for more drug rehabilitation and job training,” she said. “When the city negotiates with a developer for a tax break to build affordable housing as part of a development, the affordable housing should be built first, not last, because it’s often dropped when funds run out.”

The first event of “Homeward Bound: A Home for Every Family” was Dec. 9, when Alki offered a community movie evening showing, “Where God Left His Shoes,” a 2008 Hollywood movie of a family struggling with homelessness in New York City.

After the movie, a caseworker talked about stereotypes on the plight of families.

Cinda promoted the event through West Seattle Family Promise connections.

In January, they plan an Advocacy Panel with professors talking about causes, how to mitigate them and how people can be involved.

Along with other movie nights, there will be a photo exhibit, “Faces of Homelessness.”

Now, 12 more Alki members are becoming involved.

Cinda, who has attended Alki 10 years, said this is to be the start of a lifelong project, planting seeds so people become more activist.  “The more I’m involved and see the injustices, the more I want to advocate for solutions,” she said.

For information, call 206-935-2661, email or visit

Copyright © December 2012 - Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share