By Jonathan Ross, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCSWW)
Unemployment, eviction and homelessness were the realities for Joel and Donna’s family. After Joel received notice of being laid-off from work the family’s only source of income was a small SSI benefit to care for their disabled daughter. Following the eviction they found themselves without a roof over their heads or a meal in their stomachs. This situation repeats itself far too often for many struggling families throughout Western Washington.
Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCSWW) serves many families in need of emergency services, housing and above all respect and dignity in the face of a difficult situation.
Phoenix Housing Network (PHN), a program of CCSWW, specializes in housing for homeless families. It is the largest provider of Rapid Rehousing in Pierce County and works not only to get families into housing, but also provides supportive services to give families the best chance to succeed once they have attained housing. Parents receive intensive case management typically each day, forming a housing case plan, engaging in job searches and/or employment training, or other activities to promote self-sufficiency and the path out of homelessness.
When they were referred to PHN, Joel and Donna were in desperate straits, seeking simply to survive and to connect with the resources necessary to regain housing. The family was immediately provided with emergency shelter utilizing a network of host sites throughout Pierce County. The completely volunteer-run PHN network of host churches (which includes St. Mark’s Lutheran church, one of the Faith & Family Homelessness Project’s partner congregations) allowed the family to be safe from the harsh realities of the street. Parents and daughter found compassion, encouragement and hope within these services. During this period, with the help of their case manager, the family was able to develop a Housing Stability Plan in order to get back to self-sufficiency.
Within 30 days of their intake the family moved into housing. PHN’s Suited for Success outreach provided Joel with job coaching and professional clothing. Through his connection with a local employment agency Joel landed a full-time job making $15 hourly. The same day Joel gained employment, Donna became employed as well. With less than two months of Rapid Re-Housing services the family was able to exit the program with enough income to sustain their housing.
When a family is faced with homelessness it can be difficult to regain stability. The stress of providing for one another is overwhelming and finding a shelter that accepts families can be difficult. A family that lives in constant transition, searching for basic needs and employment, experience higher rates of sensory or “Toxic” stress. Prolonged exposure to this stress can derail normal child development and has lifelong effects on the child according to The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University. PHN currently provides a broad continuum of services specifically designed to eliminate Toxic Stress for children and families. By rapidly assisting families to regain stability PHN and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington hopes to not only affect the lives of a single family but address the root causes of systemic homelessness.
Joel and Donna have retained employment, continue to care for their daughter and have sustained housing for 6 months since exiting the Rapid Re-Housing program at PHN. With family check-ins at 3 months and 6 months the family does not appear to be at risk of returning to homelessness.