The Faith & Family Homelessness Project Turns Four!

Written by SA-Worker18 student
October 26, 2015

Seattle University?s School of Theology and Ministry celebrated a milestone on October 4th. Our Faith & Family Homelessness project turned four years old!?

Program Manager, Lisa Gustaveson, took some time this month to reflect on what we have accomplished together and what is happening in the community as a result of the work.

This work would not have been possible without the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and individual donors? support. Over 18,000 individuals across faith traditions, groups and affiliations were a part of this project, day-in and day-out. We celebrate together with each of you!

Reflection by Lisa Gustaveson, MNPL ?| ?Staff - Program Manager

It?s hard to believe it?s been four years since I walked into the School of Theology and Ministry. ?For me, this has been more than a job; I believe everything we do leads to social change. Every day I am privileged to witness first hand the dramatic shift in perceptions around the role of faith communities in ending homelessness in the region. I get to walking alongside newly engaged and renewed faith communities as they champion local and national system reform that addresses not only homelessness, but the sources of social and economic injustice that lead to a system that accepts families living in their cars or on the street.?

To mark our anniversary we thought it would be fun to share some highlights from the past four years.?

Coffee, Cookies and Change

The project aims to create a safe space where the hard questions are asked; where bold new initiatives are embraced. Over the years we?ve invited hundreds of faith leaders, congregants, advocates, governmental, public and private funders and social service agencies to come together to share their commitment to building a world where all lives are valued, not just through words but through action.?

We are most proud of the strengthened community connections and the new relationships that are nurtured through the Faith & Family Homelessness project.

The first two years of the project were intense; the project supported more than 140 events held at the 14 partner congregations. In years 3 and 4 we?ve branched out to host gatherings that were open to the public. These included No Child Sleeps Outside (January 2015) ?Best and Promising Practices (August 2015) and Faith Based Solutions to Ending Homelessness (December 2014: during a Seahawks play off game!). Watch a video from the Faith Based Solutions event, here.

A recent example is this past Sunday?s successful Sacred Land | Common Ground Affordable Housing Forum. Working with our partners at the Church Council of Greater Seattle, we recruited hundreds of people of faith to hear stories of successful partnerships between affordable housing developers, government and service providers. These stories where shared with plenty of time for questions and reflection on just what it means to use sacred land for the greater good. One attended said the forum, ?? brought palpable momentum to taking action to combat the crisis of the poor and homeless in our community. To be in a conference hall filled with passionate, like-minded individuals was thrilling.? King-5 Television covered this great event, watch the video, here.

Did You Know?

The project gives our students and community partners access to local and national experts, timely research sources, trends and best and promising practices in faith based responses to homelessness and other social problems.

In the spring of 2013 project partner Arlington United Church learned that there were 126 homeless children in their school district. The congregation was stunned ? they assumed their homeless problem was the men and women who came for shelter during the cold winter nights. Their shock led to action when they decided to let the community know about the problem through a unique art installation in the public park. The 126 life-sized gingerbread children had lasting impact ? a packed community forum led to the creation of a new family center, which was dedicated in September 2015! ???

Sharing What Works??

Through the project, we have worked with the community to create innovative, engaging tools while offering on the ground support to help local faith communities to utilize their resources (congregants? tithing of time and talent, advocacy and public will, community relationships, and even ?sacred? or church property) to achieve practical solutions to the complicated, long-term problem of homelessness and poverty in our community.

When we learned about the Homeless to Renter (H2R) project at Temple Beth Am in Seattle we knew we had to share the idea with as many congregations as possible. The proven program raises funds for Jewish Family Service?s Housing program which in turn helps families with first and last month?s rent and deposit ? often the last hurdle a family has to jump before moving out of homelessness. We documented the project through a video and simple ?How To? materials to replicate this program in other congregations.?

?Experiential Learning?

Our popular Poverty Immersion Workshop, created by the Missouri Association for Community Action, is designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month. It is a simulation, not a game, and the object is to sensitize participants to the realities faced by low-income people.

Participants are assigned to play the role of a family member, with assigned attributes -- including place of work (or unemployed) and weekly responsibilities. People experience what a month may look and feel like for individuals and families near or below the poverty line. Through this simulation participants gain awareness to the difficulties that exist if one is experiencing lack of security in employment and housing.?

The full experience lasts from two and a half to three hours. It includes an introduction and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period in which participants and volunteer staffers share their feelings and experiences and talk about what they have learned about the lives of people in poverty. A pastor who recently participated said:?"I woke up this morning feeling so grateful for the time spent yesterday afternoon at the Poverty Workshop. I am still processing the depth of what I experienced. I believe it was a truly transforming and will prove to be a pivotal event for my ministry.?

?What?s Next??

The school is in the process of expanding the reach of the project to help communities of faith more fully understand the underpinnings of poverty and injustice that result in systems that oppress those most in need. Those communities will be supported as they investigate and expand their ability to provide direct services, develop strategic partnerships with other people of good will, and advocate for the poor.

Stay tuned for more updates!