Homeless family day center coming to Camas

Interfaith nonprofit to open resource center at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church this fall

The recently formed Family Promise of Clark County, an interfaith organization for families experiencing homelessness, will house its day center at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, in Camas, this fall.

The Family Promise nonprofit provides shelter, meals and support services to families without homes, and has more than 200 affiliates across the country, including regional Family Promise services in Beaverton, Oregon, and Bellingham, Washington.

The goal of the organization is to get families back into permanent, sustainable housing and employment as quickly as possible, according to Family Promise.

David Lester, St. Thomas pastoral assistant for social concerns, said the church agreed to assist the nonprofit’s day center goals because helping the less fortunate is part of the Catholic tradition and Christian call to live a life modeled after Jesus.

“Hosting the day center for Family Promise will be a benefit to our community because it provides us an opportunity to live out that call,” Lester said. “Communities are stronger when their members in greatest need are cared for in a loving and compassionate way. We are doing what we can with the resources we have to care for homeless families who need some support to overcome the difficult hurdle of returning to a home after falling into homelessness.”

In January 2018, more than 70 community members met to discuss the possibility of opening the St. Thomas parish hall as an emergency severe-weather shelter for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Many approved of the idea, but several said they worried a shelter would entice homeless individuals and families to Camas and tax the town’s resources. In the end, the church did not open its parish hall as a severe weather shelter during the winter of 2018.

The day center is a much different concept, with families being referred to the center and able to access several resources from the St. Thomas church.

The county’s Council for the Homeless hotline staff will recommend families for the day center. Katherine Radeka, Family Promise of Clark County (FPCC)’s public relations chairwoman, said families can come from anywhere in Clark County.

Under the Family Promise model, the families will spend their evenings and nights at host congregations, where they eat dinner and relax, Radeka said. In the mornings, they will be transported by a Family Promise van driver to the Camas day center, where they will be able to shower, do laundry and meet with case managers.

The case managers will assist families with employment, transportation, financial planning, childcare and permanent housing.

The day center for FPCC will provide a network director, social worker and case management services. The center will also provide guests with a mailing address and a base for housing and employment searches.

“The day shelter is something we can provide to a greater good,” Lester said. “Guided by our faith, we are always trying to seek ways to put our beliefs into action. We hope to continue to find ways to care for those who need our support the most and do our part for those in the margins. We are fortunate to help in this way right now.”

Siting the day center in Camas made sense, Radeka said, since many host congregations are located in the eastern part of the county.

“Helping families is a big part of (Family Promise) of course, and it’s the reason why people are working on this,” Radeka said. “But a lot of it is about increasing people’s awareness about homelessness by helping them build relationships with people who are in that situation and really understand what that’s like.”

The FPCC affiliate incorporated in December 2016 and received a major matching grant of $37,500 from The Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, a charitable fund through the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington, as seed money to start operations in the fall of 2018.

When people see somebody in Camas and Washougal who is experiencing homelessness, the program will help them to not make assumptions about that person and what they’re going through, but have a more realistic understanding of the challenges they face, Radeka said.

“Everybody is dealing with the fact that affordable housing — (there’s) just not enough of it here,” Radeka said. “But individual families may have specific barriers that we could help them overcome, (that) will make them more likely to get into a housing situation they can afford and be more likely to maintain.”

Mike Pervere, FPCC board chair, said he was part of a team that brought Family Promise to Clark County.

“It’s been an amazing journey and I look forward to getting to the starting line so that we can launch this in a couple more months,” Pervere said.

The organization is financed through donations, grants and fundraising.

Pervere said he hopes to have consistent Family Promise fundraisers that includes at least one major event annually.

The annual budget goal for the program is $150,000.

Paid staffers include a case manager, program director and van driver, Pervere said. The rest of the organization is volunteer-run.

So far, the congregations set to be host sites include Grace Church in Camas; Battle Ground United Methodist Church in Battle Ground; and East Woods Presbyterian Church, Salmon Creek United Methodist Church, Garden Grove Community of Christ Church, Mill Plain United Methodist Church, St. John Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, and Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, all of Vancouver.

For more information or to donate, visit familypromiseofclarkco.org.