Over the past few years I’ve had an opportunity to attend several national conferences on ending homelessness. For the most part, conference workshops both inspire and motivate attendees, resulting in new programs or the retooling of existing programs. The Pacific Northwest is always well represented at these conferences, with “our” experts presenting in a high percentage of the workshops offered.The conference schedule also allows time for local policymakers and program directors to connect in a more relaxed setting to strengthen relationships and brainstorm new initiatives.
This year’s National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness exceeded my expectations. More than 800 people from across the United States and Canada met in New Orleans to share ways families are moving – and staying out of- homelessness. Conference attendees wrestled with tough policy issues like system conversion and funding shortages. Seven progressive “tracks” were offered, including Advocacy, Veterans, Rapid Re-Housing, Funders, Systems, with Youth Tracks designed for System Planners and Program Directors and Front Line Staff.
What did I learn? Across the country, local and state government, private philanthropy and nonprofits are struggling to meet the needs of homeless families and youth. I also learned that communities with the lowest numbers of homeless families and youth are increasing strategies and programs that actively engage faith communities.
I also learned, we – faith communities in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties – are leading the way! There are always new ideas we haven’t thought of yet, and areas where we can improve, but when I reflect on the collective impact of the faith communities in this region, there’s simply no comparison.
You see, as the Program Manager of the Faith & Family Homelessness Project I am in a position to see the regional impact of the faith communities on the issue of family homelessness. Over the past two years, our staff and faculty have spent time working side by side with Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious and lay leaders, service providers, elected officials, administrators, funders and the Seattle University community. We hear how much EACH person cares about this issue, and see the dedication and commitment played out daily. Honestly, almost daily I offer up a prayer of thanks for the privilege of managing the Faith & Family Homelessness Project.
My takeaways from the conference are many, but most importantly I’m more confident as we kick off our next year’s workplan, which includes a focus on Rapid Rehousing strategies, increasing the ability of faith communities to recruit landlords and continuing to support faith-based advocacy efforts. I say that knowing we can take advantage of established models that are successfully connecting congregations to Rapid Re-Housing programs through family support activities. I’m also excited to explore ways faith communities can be involved in promoting the idea of Shared Housing. A commonsense response to housing instability, Shared Housing benefits both homeowners and homeless families. It can be done with safeguards in place to protect all parties. (Note: I was thrilled to learn that Shared Housing Services in Pierce County successfully made over 500 homeshare matches last year! We have a best practice right here in our back yard, which we will take advantage of as we explore and learn) It’s exciting think about how local faith communities can support this great program, and ways we could expand the effort into other parts of the region.
Over the next few months the Faith & Family Homelessness Project will be exploring these models and more. Our charge: support YOU as you find the right fit for your congregation, program and community. The CRISIS of family homelessness CAN be solved. We don’t have to accept families living in their cars in our communities. If you’re excited… let me know your ideas. Also, watch this blog for expanded reports on what we’re learning!