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Through Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness
Minister advocates to end homelessness

Bill Kirlin-Hackett began volunteering with the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness (ITFH) soon after it grew out of a 2001 conference to “Create the Political Will to End Homelessness.” 

In 2004, he became its director and in 2011 established a covenanted ministry between University Congregational UCC, the PNC, the ITFH and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, where the offices are.

Bill Kirlin-Hackett

Bill Kirlin-Hackett serves as a covenanted minister with University Congregational UCC, the PNC, the ITFH and St. Luke’s Lutheran.

Bill adapted the companionship model developed by UCC pastor Craig Rennebohm  with the Seattle Mental Health Chaplaincy, which is for individuals, to the ITFH to be a companion for many groups addressing homelessness.

“We had hoped that in 10 years we would reduce homeless so much that system remedies would handle it,” said Bill, “but it’s worse.  Political systems are caught in power struggles, so agencies and people of faith need to understand that too many people do not have safe places to sleep.”

To help faith communities understand, he and the ITFH educate them to undo fears as many in society seek to criminalize homeless people.  They also call all congregations to open their doors to those needing emergency shelter, while they help work to bring into reality a roof over every bed.

“Caring for homeless people is a mandate of our faith as Christians, Jews and Muslims,” he said of the interfaith constituents the task force connects.

“We confess one God and serve our neighbor first.  Then talk about faith,” he said, noting that recently Union Gospel Mission has shifted from a policy of prayer first then soup.

The task force seeks to be an “informed, reliable and consistent voice of the religious community on homelessness in Seattle and the King County area,” he said.

It provides a means for the religious community to exert moral leadership among leaders in the public, business, nonprofit and private sectors, and to urge them to form regional solutions that end homelessness and create affordable supportive housing.

One effort started in early 2010 has established Safe Parking options for homeless families living in their vehicles.  Because of advocacy, the City of Seattle and Seattle Parking Enforcement no longer apply the Scofflaw Law (four or more unpaid tickets) to boot vehicles, in which homeless families live. 

In addition, it has recruited six churches to open their parking lots 24 hours for four vehicles of homeless people.  University Congregational UCC has agreed to provide safe places for singles and families without children to park in its parking lot, which is beside a building it owns that Catholic Community Services uses weekdays.

For two weeks at the time of the interview, UCUCC was also hosting overnight in its main building 14 women and children from Mary’s Place Seattle.  So families in vehicles have access to rest rooms and showers in the building through a keypad code.  When temperatures drop below 30 degrees, they can sleep indoors.

Families are welcome to participate in all activities of the congregation—meals, study groups and other events.

Intake for the program is through Compass Housing Alliance, which provides case managers for the families.

The ITFH is the lead in building Safe Parking networks in the county with vehicle camps in Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Kent, and Seattle.  Conversations continue to widen the network to provide immediate protection and create paths to stable  housing. 

Seattle funds a safe parking outreach coordinator who goes to public locations where people park to assist them in finding opportunities for safe parking and other needs.

The task force also seeks to engage participating congregations in studying topics related to homelessness, said Bill, who transferred his standing as an ordained Lutheran pastor since 1985, into the UCC in 2011.

“I entered ministry with a strong justice consciousness focusing on hunger,” said Bill, who last served a church in Newport Beach, Calif., with his wife Susan, who has been pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Lake Stevens since they came to Seattle in 1999.

Bill, whose bachelor’s degree was in finance, volunteered and did some part-time work in finance, before working with ITFH, which fits his commitment to justice ministry. 

“I believe people of faith need to be engaged to solve and alleviate systems that harm people,” said Bill, noting that most of the other 10 clergy in covenanted ministry with University Congregational UCC are in various chaplaincy ministries.  One covenanted minister, Marie Fortune with FaithTrust Institute addresses domestic violence and clergy ethics.

Working in a justice ministry with homeless people, he said part of his role is to educate members and connect them with opportunities to engage in homelessness ministry, such as the Safe Parking program.

“The task force is doing pioneering work,” Bill said,  “so we learn as we go.

“People love to be educated, but the next step is to do something.  Many hesitate to act unless there is something for them to do right away out of a study program,” he said.  “Once they engage in action, they realize they have the capacity, because it’s just being with people as a person.”

Bill encourages his congregation to include a line item for homelessness ministry, rather than just take special offerings.

In his leadership with the ITFH, Bill has also mediated between neighbors and cities about the location of Tent City 4, often in church parking lots.  He addresses negative responses to build acceptance.

In 2013, the ITFH also played a formative role in forming Camp Unity to facilitate a meeting of congregational hosts of the initial Tent City 4 to assure the health and survival of camps and to double tent shelter beds on the East Side.

The task force continues to companion and advance a variety of regional groups, including the Ballard Community Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, the University District Conversation on Homelessness, the Lake City Task Force on Homelessness, the Northshore Housing and Homelessness Group, the Eastside Homelessness Advisory Committee, the Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches, the South King Homeless Forum, the Westside Interfaith Network, and the Executive Committee of KentHOPE.  KentHOPE includes more than 25 congregations in greater Kent, working with Seattle Union Gospel Mission to open a day center, scheduled to open mid-December 2013, and an overnight shelter.

During legislative sessions, the ITFH plans advocacy days, leads workshops for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance conference.  It held its 13th annual “Creating the Political Will to End Homelessness Conference, “Engaging Homelessness,” two September evenings in Kent and in Shoreline.

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Copyright © December 2013 - Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News


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