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

Please allow me to make something as clear as I possibly can. I look for articles and information about homelessness not so much to inform but to give hopeful insight into what we, as Jesus’s people, can do about it. Motivation to do so is also a factor. In any given week, I rarely fail to find and read articles about homelessmess (as I call it). Not all that is in print relates to our own local community response. But most do, and we must keep up with current trends and actions.

The issue this week about homelessness starts with a piece I found about a study out of Portland State University from its’ Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative. Approached by the Office of Homeless Services (City of Portland), the study was about the impact of permanent housing that traditional congregate shelters compared to motel shelters and tiny home villages had on unhoused people. The study found that congregate shelters that house many people don’t lead to the best outcomes for the homeless. Alternative shelters like motels and villages helped those most in need, mostly due to the privacy they offered. The study found that such places give a sense of safety, dignity, and autonomy. Also, there is a tendency to feel connected to community and build toward a better life. The pairing of shared services to these groups of shelters built relationships the clients could rely upon. That was needed to navigate the complicated rules of pathways into housing.

These outcomes are so important to know. Faith communities have been at the core of alleviating poverty since long before homelessness became a crisis. We must continue to pull our weight, provide housing where we can, and give the basic services necessary to survive and thrive. How? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, give shelter to the cold. Keep on keepin’ on, Dear Ones!

I trust this is good food for thought, leading to properly directed advocacy and service. Let’s look at appropriate and timely interventions and when they work to keep folks moving toward stability. This should help us learn where to go in our communities to provide the best support.

As outlined by the United States Interagency Commission on Homelessness (USICH), their overview shows three stages: preventing entry to homelessness, sheltering and supporting those experiencing homelessness, and improving exits to permanent housing. During the first stage, income insecurity, unstable housing, and diversion efforts all need the support of traditional and non-traditional programs. Food programs, subsidies, and keeping families together are keys to success in keeping people from entering homelessness. In addition to essential services, advocacy for programs is vital at this stage. That’s what the failed ‘rent stabilization’ was about during the 2024 Washington State Legislative session. The result of the failure to pass has been increased homelessness, with pressure on overburdened services. Let’s take a look at supporting basic services such as food banks. How are they doing these days?

During the second stage, stabilization and services leading to housing include street outreach, day services, transitional housing, and employment services. The key is to deliver services in a coordinated effort. It is during this stage that parishes can and should be most visible and supportive. Day services such as meals, space for navigation centers, emergency shelters, and transitional shelters are critical. The shift begins towards permanent housing when using coordinated, effective city services.

During the third stage, we need to support affordable housing for those living unhoused and getting successfully to the total supply of affordable housing. Counseling, housing vouchers, rapid rehousing, tax credits, and other creative methods play well at this stage. Although some parishes can find success during this stage, it takes a coordinated approach nominally through ecumenical and jurisdictional actions.

Pay heed to the small acts of kindness that provide basic needs: food, clothing, health and wellness, self-care, and shelter.

Be well, do good works, love one another,

Don Fornoff, Member Taskforce on Homelessness

Updates from the Bishop’s Task Force on Homelessness

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