Family Promise expects to transform lives in new location
Joe Ader expects lives will be transformed inside a historic grocery store that has been transformed into the Family Promise of Spokane Center.
The building at 2002 E. Mission is now the site for Family Promise’s four programs: the Open Doors 24/7 emergency shelter, the Bridges church rotating shelter, the Neighbors prevention and rental assistance program, and the Village after care programs to stabilize people.
It’s still a work in progress, but the Open Doors Emergency Shelter is already in, and a ribbon cutting will be at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Family Promise is holding a Civic Theater Benefit with a performance of “Matilda” at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 1020 N. Howard.
Open Doors—previously at Emmanuel Family Life Center, 631 S. Richard Allen Ct.—moved Sept. 5. Administrative office follows at the end of the year, and the Bridges Day Shelter—both at 904 E. Hartson—will follow in 2020.
The day and night shelters for families on the main level include a nursery room for sleeping babies and breastfeeding mothers, a wellness room for people who need privacy and separation when they are sick, an intake office, three kitchenettes where families can prepare their own meals, a dining area, a play area, a meeting space, a commercial kitchen, a classroom, a laundry and a shower.
“When the grocery store was built in 1949, it was the largest free span construction building west of the Mississippi. That allows us flexibility to add and remove walls to change the layout without disturbing the structural integrity of the building,” Joe said. “For the last 10 years, it housed Cassano’s Italian grocery and deli, which closed last December. We purchased it in March.”
The main level was originally a pharmacy and soda fountain. The basement housed a cleaners beauty salon, jeweler and auto parts supplier. In the late 1950s 1950s, the basement closed and was used for storage for 60 years.
Joe said the basement will be renovated for more offices, meeting rooms for case managers and agency representatives, a locker room, laundry, play area and night shelter.
“When we fully renovate the building, we will accommodate up to 120 children and parents, double the number at Emmanuel Family Life Center,” he said.
Motioning to a little girl in the next room, Joe said: “We want to create a good future for her.”
A $950,000 Community Development Block Grant from the City of Spokane plus $120,000 in donations and a line of credit made it possible for Family Promise to purchase the building. So far, they have spent $300,000 for renovations and need another $400,000 to complete construction.
On the third floor, there are eight apartments. Existing tenants will lease five. Three are vacant. The apartments will provide a mix of permanent rentals and transitional rentals for families.
“With all programs in one building, families experiencing homelessness can find shelter and help to find housing, jobs, treatment and stability,” Joe said.
While other shelters focus on youth or single adults, Family Promise focuses on families, which it defines as anyone caring for a child or who is pregnant. Downtown shelters serve single homeless people.
“Families are the hidden homeless. They are sleeping in their cars, couch surfing or staying in motels,” he said. “They aren’t on downtown streets so people often overlook how many children in Spokane are homeless.
The Open Doors shelter saw 400 of the 3,108 homeless children in Spokane County school districts last year.
Emma Harms, outreach and recruitment manager, said: “While the community is doing better at helping homeless people find housing in Spokane, homelessness is growing.
“We have services to prevent homelessness, shelter people who are homeless and help families stabilize after leaving homelessness. Our center is a one-stop shop for homeless families,” she said.
Joe said that many organizations are collaborating to address the issues created by a lack of affordable housing, a vacancy rate under 2 percent for three years and the cost of rentals rising 13 percent a year in the last two years.
“These factors force people out of housing even if they have jobs,” he said. “Most here take their children to school and go to work. About half of the adults work, but do not earn enough. Working part time or full time at minimum wage, people cannot keep up with the cost of living. Wages are up because the state minimum wage is $12.50 an hour, but the cost of living is $17.50 an hour.”
Joe pointed to two other factors:
1) The common denominator is the lack of community. People have no one to lean on because of broken relationships.
2) Some struggle with childhood trauma from abuse, neglect, a parent in prison or aging out of foster care.
“It’s not one thing, but many things over a long period, so solutions do not come in a few months. Solutions include shelter, case managers, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment and support,” he said.
If a loss of community is one cause, Joe believes churches need to be engaged because their mission is to create community.
“Churches need to engage beyond drives for coats or food. Those help, and can be a springboard into the deeper relationships people need to move ahead,” he said. “The Bridges shelter that houses families in churches on a rotating basis is an easy way for churches to serve those in need and to build relationships by opening their building one week a quarter for up to three homeless families.
“We see fruit from two to three people from a church committing to be here regularly. More churches are partnering with our programs,” he said.
Emma, who attends Summit South Church, said many churches encourage members to help outside their walls—to model hospitality and generosity.
“They can volunteer and be transformed to understand the Gospel in a new way,” she said.
“In this community,” Joe said, “children are born to teen mothers, refugees make their way and teens join gangs to seek community.
“All three can describe Jesus, who was born to a teen mom, was a refugee and walked with a gang of disciples,” he said. “Serving the least is the literal way for Christians to live their faith and serve a person like Jesus in tangible ways.
“Faith is significant for families. While we are not are faith-based, we partner with more than 30 churches in the rotating program,” he said.
Emma said faith can be an anchor when guests feel everything is out of control. Some come to faith.
Joe said many wonder why God let this happen: “We are a safe space for people in distress to wrestle with these questions.”
After graduating from Whitworth in 2018 as a major in psychology and sociology, Emma started volunteering at Family Promise as an intern in children’s programming. After six months, she became a supervisor before beginning her present role.
Joe moved to Spokane in 2016 to help friends start Pinnacle Church and Rock Church.
“I fell into the role with Family Promise because I speak nationally about understanding poverty,” said Joe who is publishing a book, The Ghetto, the Garden and the Gospel: What Every Christian Needs to Understand About Poverty in America,
He finds poverty in Spokane unique:
1) There are more intact families in Spokane shelters—70 percent have a father figure, while in other places there are more single mothers.
2) There is more substance abuse with marijuana in Spokane than Dallas. Addiction is more common with singles experiencing homelessness.
3) There is more collaboration. In Texas, one big church would fund a whole organization that could work along. Here partnering is required.
Emma added that if someone does not qualify for services in one program that program refers the person to another program. The Homeless Coalition, which Joe chairs, agencies meets first Thursdays, so those working with the homeless can learn and collaborate.
Despite media and politicians playing on different approaches to housing, the collaboration of housing agencies means there is respect for the different approaches of housing first, treatment first or love first.
“We agree we do not want people of any age on the street,” Joe said. “Each viewpoint is valid. It’s not about only one way being valid. That would leave many more people on the streets.
“It’s a ‘yes, and’ approach. There needs to be accountability and substance abuse recovery, and there needs to be low barriers to shelters and housing, and there needs to be better economic system services. We need each,” Joe said.
Emma said different people are healthier in different systems, because each has different needs.
For information, call 747-5487 or visit familypromiseofspokane.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree,October, 2019