Center’s Thematic Working Groups on Homelessness Meet for the Second Time

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November 29, 2018

After an initial meeting in October that laid the groundwork for the coming year, the Center’s thematic working groups met for the second time in November to begin their collective problem-solving in earnest. These working groups, made up of practitioners from over 20 faith-based and community organizations from across Puget Sound, are organized around responses to homelessness where faith-based organizations (FBOs) have played a particularly important role: emergency shelter and permanent housing, tiny houses, and encampments. At the November meetings, after welcoming remarks by Center Director Manuel Mejido, two members of each group presented their organizational puzzles around responding to homelessness, followed by problem-solving sessions within each group that focused on implementing innovative solutions.

Ms. Jen Paddock and Mr. Rizwan Rizwi kicked things off, presenting their puzzles and draft plans to the shelter and emergency housing group. Ms. Paddock is the Executive Director of Acres of Diamonds, a transitional housing program for women and their children in Duvall, WA, that prioritizes helping its clients secure the educational opportunities and employment they need to sustain permanent housing. Ms. Paddock detailed for the group the significant lack of basic child care in east King County, much less the trauma-informed care needed by many children impacted by homelessness. She seeks to implement a solution that will make child care available as part of her organization’s services and also offer learnings for similarly affected organizations. Ms. Paddock invited feedback from the group around the scope and intricacies of the problem, and together they brainstormed around potential funding sources, grant-seeking strategies and partnerships.

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Mr. Rizwi is Executive Director of Muslim Housing Services (MHS), a King County-based organization that offers rapid rehousing, transitional housing and case management services to those who are unhoused. He believes that the lack of suitable employment is a major factor in preventing people from sustaining their housing over the longer term. In response to this puzzle, he hopes to implement a plan that would place a dedicated employment services specialist on-site at MHS so as to maximize accountability and coordination of services. Mr. Rizwi envisions this specialist might also liaise with local employers and thereby develop further opportunities for families trying to get back on their feet. The group debated the merits and pitfalls of various funding streams and grant possibilities for this program expansion and offered ideas for reframing and fine-tuning his plan.

The working group on tiny houses heard presentations from Ms. Mary Wahl, Ms. Jen Manlief and Mr. Josh Perme. Ms. Wahl, a Regional Network Builder for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCS), is trying to work out how she might develop Catholic parish involvement in community-wide responses to homelessness in Snohomish County. As she dissects this puzzle with the working group, Ms. Wahl is seeking to develop a plan whereby congregation members will be identified and trained as “para-navigators” within each parish. Each para-navigator—a role designed and supported by Everett Gospel Mission and Snohomish County, with assistance from CCS—is trained to assess needs and offer assistance navigating services to those who come to the parish for help. The group assisted Ms. Wahl in mapping out the strengths and overlap among existing organizations and coalitions addressing homelessness as well as the potential leverage points and opportunities for relationship-building, among other things.

Ms. Manlief and Mr. Perme are Director and Program Manager, respectively, at the Bridge Care Center (BCC), a drop-in center in Ballard that also offers an innovative program called Advocates Representing the Community (ARC). ARC provides a wrap-around team and designated funds to help program participants reach mutually agreed-upon, individualized goals that are designed to move them to more sustainable solutions to their homelessness. BCC is grappling with high demand for its services and its staff aim, with the help of the working group’s varied experience and expertise around program development, to implement a plan for expansion of their hours, staffing and programming, including ARC.

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Lastly, from the working group on encampments, Rev. David Rodes and Mr. Michael Yoder presented their organizational puzzles and tentative plans. Rev. Rodes is Senior Pastor of Puyallup Nazarene Church (PNC), a congregation that, in recent years, has been involved in supporting people as they become housed. Troubled by the high number of families and individuals that they see return to homelessness, PNC is wrestling with how to help those who are newly housed build resiliency and strategies to support stability. The plan he aims to implement is two-pronged: First, it includes a volunteer formation program for his congregation that fosters the capacity of its members to support their unhoused neighbors through caring relationships. And second, it looks to develop a partnership between the congregation and a local social service agency to more effectively and compassionately respond to the needs of homeless individuals. His fellow working group members offered points of clarification and partnership leads for this project.

Mr. Yoder, Executive Director of Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County (AM), sees congregations that have the potential capacity to respond in tangible ways to homelessness in Tacoma/Pierce County but are stymied by a lack of technical support. In response, AM is working to implement a plan for an interfaith and cross-sector campaign that will bring the community around the goal of ending family homelessness in the area. With the working group, Mr. Yoder is finessing the structure and operationalization of this plan.

These three thematic working groups will meet next in December, at which time they will consider and problem-solve around another set of organizational puzzles, with an eye toward implementing innovative solutions. In addition, there will be structured time for past and future presenters to reconnect and help each other refine their developing implementation plans. This format will be repeated until all members have had the chance to present, discuss and rework their puzzles and accompanying plans.

The working group process will culminate in a professional development workshop, Problem-Solving to Enhance Faith-Based Responses to Homelessness, on June 19-21, 2019. Thematic working group members will present their final plans during this workshop, which offers other practitioners from the Puget Sound region and other parts of the country the opportunity to model the working group process.

For more information about these thematic working groups please be in touch with Rev. Margaret Breen, Community Engagement Manager, Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs, at breenm@seattleu.edu, or 206-296-2657.