Over the past few months, we have had the pleasure of collaborating with Sue Covey and Fred Diamondstone, two committed and visionary members of Temple Beth Am. Sue and Fred are the two volunteer leads of the Homeless to Renter (H2R) Program, a collaboration between Temple Beth Am and Jewish Family Service. We’ve just released a new video and resource page showcasing this very exciting model of collaboration between an agency and a congregation doing their part to make family homelessness rare, brief and one-time! Below, Sue speaks to the impact of homelessness on children, the extent of family homelessness in our region, and how Temple Beth Am has is working to solve the problem through the H2R program.


By Sue Covey

Danny sat at the dinner table of the overnight faith-based shelter looking very sad.  After a few minutes he said, “I miss my Dad.  I don’t get to see him because he has to stay in a shelter for men only.”

A three year-old girl ran crying after her Mom, pleading, “No, no! Don’t throw it away!”  Her mother had to throw her daughter’s special game in the garbage, knowing that she couldn’t carry even one thing more as she moved her family from one overnight shelter to the next.

An adolescent girl spoke about the shame she felt and the effort she’d put in to make sure that no one at her school knew she and her Mom were homeless; a fire had burned their home down, they had lost all of their belongings, and now they were one of many on a long list for housing.

These real-life examples[1] provide just a slice everyday life for homeless kids.

Family Served by H2R. Photo credit: Betsy Boyer

Family served by H2R. Photo credit: Betsy Boyer

It is no surprise, then, that homeless children have twice the rate of emotional and behavioral issues—including anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. Their education is often disrupted and challenges in school are common.

When compared with their housed peers, homeless children are two times more likely to have learning disabilities and three times more likely to have an emotional disturbance. These factors contribute to much lower graduation rates among homeless and low-income youth[2], perpetuating the cycle of poverty and homelessness: like many of their parents, these young people are not prepared to compete for the good jobs that require at least a high school diploma, if not a college degree or postsecondary certificate.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, families with children may be the least visible, but are the fastest growing population of homeless nationwide. Poverty and the lack of affordable housing are the principal causes of family homelessness. And, as we know, housing shapes lives and elevates communities.

So, how is our state doing?

During the 2012-13 school year, 30,609 students in Washington schools were identified by school districts as homeless—a 12% increase from the previous school year and an 82% increase from 2006-07.

In the 2012-2013 school year, 6,188 King County public school children from pre-kindergarten through high school were counted as homeless by their schools – a 45% increase; and almost half of King County’s homeless students are in grade 5 or lower.

Seattle schools counted 2,370 homeless students that same year – 26% more than the previous year!

The causes of these increases are hard to pin down. Domestic violence continues to be one of the major causes of family homelessness. But a disturbing trend we are also seeing is a large number of families who are homeless for the first time – families who couldn’t pay their rent or mortgage after getting foreclosed on, losing a job, or experiencing a medical crisis.

Sue Covey and Fred Diamondstone of Temple Beth Am's H2R program. Photo Credit: Betsy Boyer.

Sue Covey and Fred Diamondstone of Temple Beth Am’s H2R program. Photo Credit: Betsy Boyer.

How can we, as communities of faith, make a difference?

Temple Beth Am (TBA) grappled with this question while hosting Tent City some years ago. We learned that even people with a source of income are sometimes unable to move out of homelessness and into a home.  With a low paying job or other source of minimal income, there may be enough to pay for a low-rent home, but it is often impossible to save the money required for upfront move-in costs (security deposit, last month’s rent).  One more barrier! Hearing about this additional hurdle, TBA formed a committee to tackle the problem – and so began the Homeless To Renter program (H2R).

The H2R Program provides the financial “key” to housing for temporarily homeless families with children.  H2R works together with Jewish Family Service (JFS), a non-profit organization that collaborates with local social service agencies (32 agencies to date), to qualify families with kids for assistance to get into housing.  The combination of qualified referrals, case management, and renter and owner educational efforts affords families the best chance there is to succeed as renters.  Once a family is qualified, H2R provides up to $1,000 move-in aid, which is paid directly to the landlord. In addition to providing move-in money, TBA members have also provided families with baskets of basic household items (often provided by kids from our Religious School), and afghans knitted by our Knitzvah Knitters. This has afforded every TBA member ways to help these families and serve as part of a supportive community

The need is great in our community.  To date, H2R has helped to move 238 families with kids into homes – a total of 839 people (546 kids and 293 parents).  H2R impacts an increasing number of people each year: 85 people in 2011-2012, 111 people in 2012 – 2013, and now 131 more in 2013-2014.

H2R hopes to help many more families take a step forward into their new lives, and perhaps provide an example of how other congregations can assist in this important effort.

[1] Names have been changed.

[2] Low-income youth are four and a half times more likely to drop out of high school than their high-income peers according to 2008 data from the National Center for Education Statistics.