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From Don Fornoff, Bishop’s Task Force on Homelessness:

Homelessness continues to be an in-front-of-us topic in the news, the Supreme Court, and politics. The Supreme Court case Johnson V. Grant’s Pass is due for a decision to be made public in June. Interestingly, I read that Mayor Harrell of Seattle says the decision for or against cities won’t make any difference for Seattle, as the priority is to provide as much shelter as the city can provide. A report in the Washington State Standard says Washington is meeting its housing goals. That report qualified itself by further examining what is actually happening to people. Homeownership is becoming increasingly out of reach for more and more residents. Subsidized rental units are not meeting demand. The housing supply is up but lags for apartments, duplexes, and other lower-income possibilities. Homelessness is increasing in general (although it is down 10% in Snohomish County, as found in the annual count). According to an Everett Herald report, authorities in Snohomish acknowledge sustained investments in housing and services need to continue. Politics will continue to be up and down, as is its’ nature. Housing first is widely accepted as being most effective for getting unhoused folks off the streets and into stable shelter, whatever form that might be.

All these big-picture situations are important for sure; it is necessary to keep eyes and ears open in witnessing community actions and clashes. Also important is to remember that the churches in our Diocese of Olympia should be doing all in their power to serve our housing-challenged neighbors. What that means to the Task Force is determining the most effective small-action way to serve. Our long-term task force member, Chris Blair of St. Andrew’s, Seattle, is a manna bag champion. She has organized manna bag projects for her church and writes: “Helping a person who is unhoused can seem overwhelming. When you see someone holding a sign on the corner asking for money, do you give in? Or drive on? A simple cost-effective, and beneficial answer is handing out a manna bag. A bread bag? No. A manna bag is a Ziploc bag full of non-perishable food and non-food items. This usually includes water, socks, snacks, soft chewable candy, and wet ones. In the winter, hand warmers are crucial. Parishioners or youth groups can assemble these to hand out to parishioners to have in their car when they see someone in need. “

Chris recalls ‘handing out two manna bags to a mom, seeing she had two youngsters, a girl perhaps 12 years old and a younger brother aged 7. I sat at the stop light and watched their joy at opening their bags. The brother reached for his sister’s item, and she grabbed it back, pointing to his bags as if saying, “You have your own bag; leave mine alone.” I watched as they had fun exploring and eating snacks. My heart was full. Did it solve their homeless problem? No, but it made their day.’

References for Chris’s notes come from

Suggestions for what to put into manna bags come from that website:

  • Large Ziploc bags
  • Bottled water
  • Toiletries in plastic bottles, like shampoo, bars of soap, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb
  • Washcloth
  • Socks
  • Sunscreen
  • Plastic utensils: fork, spoon
  • Napkins or baby wipes
  • Non-perishable food. If in cans, make sure it has a pop top, not one needing a can opener
  • Packages of sunflower seeds or nuts
  • Canned tuna or stew
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Beef or turkey jerky
  • Power bars or granola bars
  • Apple sauce or other fruit in cups
  • Juice boxes
  • Boxes of raisins
  • Hard candies or mints
  • Note of encouragement
  • Scripture passage
  • Index card with addresses of local homeless shelters or food pantries

Be well, Dear Ones, do good work, love one another.

Don Fornoff, member Bishop’s Task Force on Homelessness

Happenings, Discussions, and Manna Bags: Updates from the Bishop’s Task Force on Homelessness

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