By Shannon Thomas, Member of Alki UCC Congregation‘s FFH Planning Team 

Shannon Thomas, center, pictured with Alki UCC members at a recent City of Seattle Human Services Committee meeting.

I am beginning my fourth year as Housing Case Manager with the King County Adult Drug Diversion Court. Participants in KCDDC have been charged with a drug related felony and if they graduate from KCDDC, these charges will be dropped and case dismissed. My job involves helping our participants assess their housing needs and navigate through their housing challenges which include being unable to pay rent, imminent eviction, or homelessness. Although the majority of the people we serve are single adults and male, a growing number are single parent mothers (and fathers) with children. The obstacles to finding safe and affordable housing for these families are extraordinary, decreasing the likelihood that our homeless families will be able to find, be approved for, or sustain safe and affordable housing.

These families are among our community’s most vulnerable and at risk populations. Their lives are filled with anxiety and stress, constant disarray and chaos, with little meaningful opportunity to plan, strategize or enact substantial, positive change. And, these families find precious little time to rest. These factors are strong catalysts towards relapse into further drug abuse and exacerbating mental illness symptoms….which, in turn, heightens the possibility of engaging in new criminal behavior and spiraling further and further out of control. Simply put, it’s a mess.

 My challenge to the 14 FFH communities – and those reading this post – is to consider expanding your homeless ministries to include those families caught up in the criminal justice systems and struggling with drug addiction. The need is enormous and there are countless ways to help.

Through my experience, I’ve noticed that many people hold back from engaging in this ministry due to a misunderstanding of the impacts of generational poverty on these families. Our larger society (and many people of faith) believe that once someone has broken the law, they are no longer “deserving” of our care and support. Contrary to our best traditions of mercy, forgiveness, and hospitality…there is a prominent drive to punish, humiliate and ostracize.

Many people are surprised to learn that most of these families suffer within multi-generational systems of abuse, where these single moms were once children trapped within similar events of homelessness. Drug abuse and criminal behavior are intimately linked to the chaos of housing instability, which are tragic legacies handed down from generation to generation. Trafficking in sex and drugs are survival skills within the only economic system which will deliver wages that can pay the rent. As a result, the homeless families who are caught up in the criminal justice system are some of our most marginalized, most vulnerable, most victimized and most at risk. Our faith communities must bring compassion to these families, seeing their behaviors in context of much larger systems of social and economic injustice and generational abuse.

Shalom,  Shannon