Day center opens for homeless families

Family Promise sets up in Camas’ St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church

The interfaith Family Promise of Clark County organization has opened its Camas-based day center for families experiencing homelessness.

According to Family Promise, the new Camas center, which opened at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on March 31, will provide a safe daytime space for families on the path toward permanent, sustainable housing and employment.

The center will operate seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and give homeless families, including children younger than 18, a chance to shower, do laundry, use phones and computers, do homework and meet with case managers.

Family Promise of Clark County Director Linda Winnett said the Camas day center has already received its first families.

“We can only have 14 people at any one time,” Winnett said. “On average, we will have three to five families.”

The maximum number is due to the fact that Family Promise’s passenger van, which takes the families from their rotating night shelters to the day center in the morning, then back again in the evening, can only accommodate 14 passengers and one driver.

Winnett said many of the families utilizing the day center right now are new to homelessness.

“The first few families were maybe staying with a family member or friend and couldn’t stay there any longer. Some were living in their vehicles,” Winnett said.

The families are saving money while they’re in the Family Promise program and most will transition into permanent housing, Winnett said.

“The national average of success is 82 percent find permanent housing,” Winnett said, adding that Family Promise, a nonprofit founded in New Jersey in 1986, is a national organization with more than 200 affiliates and a record of serving more than 825,000 homeless families throughout the country.

The average stay for a Family Promise family is nine weeks, Winnett said. But finding affordable, permanent housing in Clark County is proving more and more difficult.

“There is a lack of affordable housing in the nation and in Clark County,” Winnett said. “The difference between what you can earn and the costs of housing — and not just housing but everything you need in addition to housing — exceed the wages we’re earning as new and young families. All it takes is one major expense, a car repair or dental or medical bill, and it tips the scale.”

Winnett said Family Promise is heavily invested in education and awareness — and helping volunteers and community members understand the difference between families in housing crisis and chronic homelessness.

“Family homelessness is unseen,” Winnett said. “And the No. 1 reason is a lack of affordable housing.”

Breaking down stereotypes surrounding family homelessness is a critical piece of the Family Promise model.

“When you break down some of those stereotypes through education and awareness, using statistics and data, it begins to break down some fears and concerns,” Winnett said. “We train the volunteers that help us here at the day center and the volunteers from the (host and support) congregations so they have a better understanding of family homelessness … and it tends to help them open their hearts.”

The county’s Council for the Homeless hotline staff will recommend families for the day center. The adults must be parents or guardians of children younger than 18 and families will come from every region of Clark County.

“The Housing Hotline is looking forward to referring families experiencing homelessness to this program, which aims to connect parents with stable, permanent housing quickly in order to minimize the impact of homelessness,” said Kate Budd, executive director of the Council for the Homeless.

Under the Family Promise model, the families will spend their nights at host congregations, where they can eat dinner, relax and sleep. 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, use computers and meet with case managers.

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

The day center also gives the families a mailing address — a critical thing to have when searching for a new apartment or job.

“The day shelter is something we can provide to a greater good,” David Lester, St. Thomas pastoral assistant for social concerns, told The Post-Record in September 2018, when plans for the new day center were first announced.

Lester 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,” he 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.

“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.”

Katherine Radeka, Family Promise of Clark County’s public relations chairwoman, said siting the day center in Camas made sense because many of the host congregations are located in east Clark County.

The group aims to have at least 13 host congregations to host the families in the evenings and overnight for one week on a rotating basis.

Currently, 10 congregations have signed up to host the families.

“When (Family Promise) first approached us, we were excited about joining the cause, but weren’t sure we could take on the role of being a host congregation,” said Rev. Susan Boegli, pastor of the Battle Ground United Methodist Church (UMC). “After initially signing on as a support congregation, an enthusiastic member of our church convinced us to reconsider. Now we are committed to being a hosting site and we are looking forward with excitement to welcoming FPCC’s first guests into our church home.”

Eight other “support congregations” will provide volunteers and meals for the families.

“Amazing support from the community has provided everything we need to open,” said Family Promise of Clark County Board President Michael Pervere. “Through their generosity, we’ve been able to hire professional staff, acquire a 15-passenger van and trailer, furnish our day center and put the first year of operation on a solid financial footing to give us time to grow our donor base.”

The organization is funded by donations, grants and fundraising efforts. The Camas-Washougal Community Chest recently granted the local Family Promise $11,250 to help fund a part-time case manager. The program’s annual budget is $150,000.

The organization is still in the process of growing its volunteer and support/host congregation base in Clark County, Winnett said.

“We have links on our website if people are interested in helping out,” Winnett said.

Each week of hosting the families includes the work of about 50 volunteers, according to the Family Promise of Clark County site at familypromiseof clarkco.org. To get more information about volunteer opportunities or the organization’s local “wish list” of supplies for the day center and overnight sites, fill out the “Get More Information” form on the Family Promise of Clark County website under the “Get Involved” or “Donate” tabs.

For more information, visit familypromiseofclarkco.org.