Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry was recently awarded a second grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through its groundbreaking Faith & Family Homelessness Project, 14 Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical congregations with 6 from King County, 4 from Pierce County and 4 from Snohomish County partnered with the school to promote education and advocacy toward ending family homelessness. This kind of social justice partnership with a graduate school of theology breaks new ground on the connection between professional education and social action on behalf of the homeless.
Over a two year period, selected communities received financial and technical support to increase their understanding of the issues of homelessness. The project supported more than 140 trainings and events around the causes of family homelessness and effective measures to address the issue, and faculty in Seattle University's School of Theology and graduate students engaged the issue as both student and activist. By tapping into the organizing and advocacy potential of the participating faith communities and the educational and relational networks of a major school of theology and ministry, the first phase of the project ignited hundreds of powerful new voices, resulting in hundreds of new housing advocates who demonstrated their new found commitment to ending homelessness. The second phase of the Faith & Family Homelessness Project responds to the growing crisis of family homelessness in the region. Even with innovative improvements like coordinated entry and new affordable housing units, the recession has pushed more vulnerable families further into poverty and homelessness. Family shelters are full, and wait lists stretch beyond comprehension. For example, King County’s Family Housing Connections manages a wait list for shelter and housing that tops 4,000 families. Pierce and Snohomish counties report their coordinated entry systems are also beyond capacity, with smaller numbers but significant challenges.
Affordable housing advocates and developers have responded to the crisis, producing supportive housing at record rates. Unfortunately, demand outweighs the pace at which builders can produce the units needed. Meanwhile, one of the greatest human resources for responding to this issue is found in the participants in religious congregations. Yet, the leaders and participants in most parishes, temples and mosques are unprepared to address the complexity and demands of this humanitarian crisis. We believe the answer to increasing the bandwidth of the housing pipeline is found through the infusion of new partnerships and resources into a system that embraces innovative models and ideas, and giving special attention to raising the visibility of this issue in the education and formation of the next generation of congregational leaders. The second grant will deepen the impact of the Faith & Family Homelessness congregations by connecting them to local efforts around rapidly rehousing homeless families, helping congregations inspire and recruit landlords in their congregations and communities who are willing to rent to formerly homeless families, and strengthening their ability to advocate for state housing resources like the Housing Trust Fund and Washington Families Fund. Within the School of Theology and Ministry, students will be offered opportunities throughout the next year to participate and take leadership in various aspects of the project. To stay up to date on the project, sign up for email updates through the project blog.
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