The new Bel-Red Family Resource Center is a faith-based response to this crisis and is a beautiful example of the great things that can happen when churches heed the call to live out their faith and serve their neighbors and the wider community.
By Dawn Stenberg, Church Engagement Partnership Specialist at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission
Last year, Redmond city officials approached Evangelical Chinese Church (ECC) to ask if they would be willing to engage the issue of homelessness by opening up their building for use as a shelter. ECC then began to ask themselves what more they could do to help their homeless neighbors. They started exploring partnerships with area congregations and non-profit agencies to better understand the issue and how they could get involved.
ECC partnered with Creekside Covenant Church, Westminster Chapel, and Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to explore how they could serve families experiencing homelessness. They’ve been working together for nearly two years on opening the “BelRed Family Resource Center” or BRFRC and are ready to do a “soft launch” opening for the BRFRC. Operations for a day center will begin in a facility owned by Creekside Covenant. The long term hope is to operate a 24-hour shelter for single moms at a large house ECC owns on the property adjacent to Creekside Covenant Church.
In preparation to open this day center for single moms, the congregations involved have taken part in several training opportunities. Working in partnership with Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, they hosted a Poverty Simulation Workshop at ECC. More than 80 people attended up on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and we even had to turn some people away as the workshop reached capacity. Other trainings offered were a Trauma Informed Care and Boundaries training at ECC that had about 180 in attendance. Additionally, Westminster Chapel recently hosted a “Homelessness 101” workshop where people came and learned about the facts and myths about homelessness, and participated in an interactive training.
The congregations are very committed to serving families experiencing homelessness. We hope to open the BRFRC at the end of May and have started recruiting volunteers from the congregations and the community. For more information, and to see how you can get involved you can visit www.ugm.org/BelRed.
By Lisa Gustaveson, Program Manager, Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry
On the first Tuesday of every month you will find a handful of Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry faculty, staff and students at the Emergency Family Shelter. We finish up our work day, grab our families if they are joining us, and meet down at the Belltown shelter with a prepared meal. Sometimes we bring homemade sauce, meatballs and pasta, other times we pull together something easy like a taco bar.
The food we bring is greatly appreciated – the families love the variety and recognize the time and money it takes to organize these monthly visits.
School of Theology and Ministry graduate students, staff, faculty and their families at the Emergency Family Shelter.
The best – and most needed – part of our visit happens after we dish up the meal. That’s when we join the families at the tables and share stories about our day. We complain, or rejoice, about the weather and the joys and challenges of parenting. We laugh at the antics of children showing off for the visitors. We open our hearts to hear stories of heartbreak and frustration from mothers who just want to find a better life for their children.
The last time I was at the shelter I met Mary (not her real name). When I asked if I could join her she smiled brightly and welcomed me. There was something about her smile that put me at ease. I felt the stress of my day melting away, and I let myself relax.
“How are things going for you?” I asked. Over the years I’ve asked this question of people experiencing homelessness hundreds of times. Sometimes people shrug and say, “o.k.” This lets me know today is not the day for them to share their story with me.
More often than not the question is met with a smile and “good, and you?” This opens the door to a more personal exchange.
This time, Mary and I quickly connected and found ourselves laughing about the funny things that happened to us that day. Her two-year-old daughter took advantage of her distracted mom to eat a couple packets of butter (at least one with the wrapper still on) before we noticed. We laughed some more about how much trouble kids get into when Mom is focusing her attention elsewhere.
In a short time I learned that Mary was the daughter of a very young mother, and was placed in foster care at age 11. She bounced around from foster home to foster home until she turned 18 when she “aged out.” That means, at an age where many kids are still relying on their parents for support, Mary was left to support herself.
Without a supportive community to rely on, she fell into a crowd that wasn’t always on the right track. Somehow, Mary managed to stay out of big trouble. She told me she didn’t have her daughter until her 20’s because she knew how hard it was for her mom to raise her alone.
Infographic created by Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness.
Like so many of the homeless women I’ve met, there was a man who came into her life that didn’t treat her well. She didn’t go into the details and, frankly, she didn’t have to for me to understand how instability, trauma and violence led her to the place she is today.
At this point in the conversation I asked her how her housing search was going. Mary was quick to tell me that the first thing she does every day is check the Capitol Hill Housing website to see if there’s an open unit that meets the requirements of her Section 8 voucher.
Like all homeless families, receiving that housing voucher was a big deal for Mary. For almost a year she’s held onto that voucher – bouncing between couches and shelters – searching, searching for that one break that will change everything. She told me that all she wants is a place to call her own where she can rest and play with her daughter after a long day of work.
One thing became crystal clear to me: Mary really wants to break the generational cycle of poverty. “If I had a job I would be so grateful. Even if it’s at McDonalds I would treat it like it was a 5 star restaurant.”
Suddenly, it was time to clean up for the Therapeutic Play program run by volunteers from Ballard Church on the first Tuesday of the month. (Watch for an upcoming post about this important program.)
I walked out to my car with Mary’s words running through my mind: if I had a job….
But I know the deck has been stacked against Mary since she was a child. She didn’t get a great education – each move meant she fell further and further behind in school. Bouncing from place to place made difficult to build trusting relationships, especially with caring adults. It’s never going to be easy for Mary.
What is so incredible to me is that Mary gets up every day, turns on her phone and looks to see if today is the day she gets a break. Is today the day everything changes?
Read blog posts on Firesteel about homelessness, poverty and the brain – how toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect outcomes for children as they grow up.
Learn about the One Home campaignand invite friends and acquaintances who are property owners/landlords to consider modifying their rental criteria to help families move out of homelessness. Consider hosting a Landlord Coffee Hour to reach out to landlords in your faith community. (Contact us to find out more.)
Do somethingto help homeless individuals and familiesRIGHT NOW:
Volunteer with one of Union Gospel Mission’s many shelters or meal programs – there are special opportunities for Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up.
Volunteer with or donate to Mary’s Place, which serves homeless families through rotating and permanent shelter and a day center.
Donate your time and resources to one of Seattle’s sanctioned encampments, two of which are opening at new locations this week – Tent City 5 in Interbay and Nickelsville in Ballard; or to one of the other many encampments in the greater Seattle area: Tent City 3 (currently at Bryn Mawr UMC in Skyway), Tent City 4 (currently at Hans Jensen campground in Issaquah), and Camp Unity (currently at Bear Creek UMC in Woodinville). All of these communities list their specific priority needs on their websites, so please check them out!
Christian Coalition for Safe Families (CCSF) formed in early 2011, bringing together advocates, therapists, professionals in the criminal justice system, survivors of violence, pastors, and interested parties who are committed to the goal of raising awareness about Domestic Abuse in the Body of Christ.
In her post below, Lani reminds us, as people of faith, we are often the first responders to the crisis of domestic violence. She gives us concrete steps we should take to be ready to serve when violence strikes a family in our congregation.
The faith community – that is, the church – can do a great deal to help families avoid the all-too-common consequences of domestic violence: destruction of the family unit, housing instability and homelessness.
For families in domestic violence crisis, the faith community needs to be a place of safety, understanding, support, guidance, and resources that will help heal the problem, and certainly not add condemnation, judgment or poor advice to an already devastating situation.
To adequately respond to the needs of their congregation, faith community members and leaders should question and reflect on how they deal with domestic violence situations, asking questions of their community such as:
When a family in crisis brings their brokenness into the church leader’s office asking for help, is the church leader prepared to respond appropriately?
Is the church leader afraid to deal with the messiness of relationships?
Does the church leader have knowledge of community resources for the many needs that may present (shelter, food, clothing, bills, healthcare, counseling, DV advocates, support groups)?
Does the church leader understand the wisdom that when a couple is suspected to be in a domestic abuse situation, that church leader should never counsel the adults together?
Is the leader confident and wise enough to encourage separation, if necessary, to allow for safety and a period of healing?
Or does the church leader pull out the partial scripture “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) or “Wives, submit to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22) and send the couple home with an admonishment to work harder on their marriage? (Can you imagine how damaging it is to be sent home feeling like you are the problem, guessing that there must be a secret formula that will end the abuse, without having been given any insight or clarity about what is actually going on?)
And the children don’t miss a beat.
They see it all; they hear it all. Even if the children aren’t home or are “asleep,” they know. So they often become disillusioned by the church that won’t help, the church that didn’t help. Or they may wonder, who is this God who is supposed to be their “father in heaven”? Do all fathers act like their earthly father – even their heavenly father? And why would God allow the abuse to continue? Why would their pastor allow it to continue?
So, how can the church help to strengthen the family? Church leaders and all members of the congregation need to take some important steps:
1) As a church staff, learn about domestic abuse – what it is, in all its nuances, and what it is not. Visit http://ccsfhope.org/resources/ to find out more.
2) Learn what resources are available in your community; keep a list of resources on hand. Download the King County Domestic Violence Handbook, “Why does she stay?,” “Symptoms of Abuse,” “Responding to Domestic Violence,” and other resources at http://ccsfhope.org/resources/. Visit the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website at http://wscadv2.org/ to find resources as a survivor, advocate or someone currently in crisis.
3) Take a stand against domestic abuse and advocate! Talk to your neighbors, friends and family, members of your faith community, and use social media and take part in awareness campaigns to advocate. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website is a great place to get ideas and start supporting survivors and those experiencing abuse right now.
4) Address the issue of domestic abuse with confidence and authority from the pulpit. The church pulpit is often the place where society’s struggles are addressed, and most churches talk about God, His values, His character, and His desires for His people. God absolutely does not want & never condones abuse in families. However, very few sermons directly address the issue of domestic violence. And when family relationships start to deteriorate, many churches don’t know what to say or do to help the families.
When a church leader addresses DV from the pulpit, several things happen. When the abuser hears the message, the abuser begins to understand that he cannot use scripture or hide behind scripture to abuse. He hears that the church leadership is wise to his tactics of abuse and that the church DOES know how to respond to the abuse. When the victim hears the message, the victim hears that the church is a safe place to seek help, that she or he will be believed and that there are resources to help her or him. This gives the victim HOPE.
Most importantly, the faith community can respond with wisdom, compassion and resources to families in domestic abuse situations. This may sound like a straightforward fix, and yet it may take generations to heal the wounds and trauma of abuse. Even still, by addressing domestic violence openly, by providing a safe space and support to families before they break apart in crisis and become homeless, and by supporting those survivors who have lost their homes with counseling and financial support, the church can go a long way to help heal the problem of homelessness.
Each time I hear a homeless family tell their story I become even more committed to our goal of making homelessness rare, brief and one time. Their voices – more than the written word – stick with me for a very long time. More stories that stick will, I believe, result in more people committing to ending homelessness for families. The question is, how do we find those stories and help people tell their personal stories well?
We’re excited to announce a new storytelling workshop right here in the Pacific Northwest!
Photo Credit: Jason Falchook
Our partners at Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness are partnering with the national non-profit The Moth to bring their acclaimed storytelling workshop to local homeless advocates. Selected participants will gain valuable storytelling skills from the experts, while honing their personal story about family homelessness into a compelling five-minute narrative.
People with a personal story about family homelessness are encouraged to apply. It may be hard for you to tell your story if you’ve experienced homelessness as a child. Or, you might work or volunteer for family homelessness service providers, advocacy organizations or faith communities and want to share your passion for justice with others. These workshops are for you!
Applications are being accepted now through Feb. 6, 2015, for “Home: Lost and Found,” a series of storytelling workshops in February/March in Seattle. (If you just thought, “I will never be picked… so why bother?” THINK AGAIN! Please do apply!)
The sixteen people chosen to attend will be coached on how to craft their narrative into a five-minute story. All participants will be offered an opportunity to share those stories at the end of the workshop. “Graduates” will also be considered for a public Moth event in April.
Participants will take what they’ve learned back to their organizations and share their new skills with all the storytellers there, resulting in more powerful stories for dozens of organizations!
Check out this fabulous blog post written by Haley Jo Lewis for our partners at Firesteel. Haley edited and shares below a conversation between Project on Family Homelessness director Catherine Hinrichsen and Vince Matulionis of United Way of King County that came out of this summer’s StoryCorps project in Puget Sound. Read or listen to their conversation and learn about how domestic violence can push families out of their homes, as well as some of the ups and downs of working in the business of ending homelessness – what’s frustrating and discouraging, but also what gives Vince and all the rest of us the hope and inspiration we need to carry on.
Lisa Gustaveson vividly remembers a day in 1999 when she and Vince Matulionis were sitting in a cubicle at United Way of King County, talking about how to take on the issue of homelessness in our community. Fifteen years later, says Lisa, “Vince continues to work day and night to make a difference in the lives of those on the margins of society.”
This story with Vince is different from the Kalberer family story, because we edited it ourselves. StoryCorps allows partner organizations to edit recordings, and encourages them to share the stories widely. This is the first of what we hope are many more recordings that you can hear on Firesteel in the months to come.
STEPPING INTO HOMELESSNESS
Each StoryCorps participant receives a CD of their recording.
I haven’t met Vince yet, but I learned a lot about him by listening to him on the recording. Vince is determined; he’s determined to end homelessness, determined to build a movement and determined to change the way people see homeless families and individuals.
I have always been an avid Seattle Seahawks fan! My dad and I used to watch the games every week, and he would call them the “Sea Chickens” when they weren’t very good.
Football has always held a special place in my heart; I grew up hearing about my dad’s experience playing the game, watching my brother play and dancing for my high school team every year. In high school I even got to dance at a few Seahawks halftimes!
As I have grown as a Seahawks fan, I have started to follow the National Football League (NFL) and learn more about the game of football in general.
That’s why when I see horrible things like substance abuse, insensitive language/gestures and even worse, the recent domestic violence and child abuse, I feel heartbroken.
Unfortunately, since I started my research into the NFL domestic violence problem, many domestic violence situations and other contract violations have been revealed. The video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an elevator is just one recent example of how both the players’ actions and the league’s response to them have made me question my passion for the NFL. I have a hard time supporting a sport or league that tolerates any kind of abuse.
If you aren’t familiar with the NFL situation, I’ll talk more about it in Part 2 later this week.
WHAT WOULD I DO?
I recently joined the Project on Family Homelessness and have learned that domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children locally and nationally. Therefore, when I saw the Ray Rice incident unfold, I was not only shocked, but aware that many women and children end up having no place to go if they leave their abusers.
Stories like this have caused me to think about my own life and to wonder what I would do if I were in a domestic violence situation. I know I have loved ones who would support me, but not everyone does.
This is a question worth asking, considering that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetime and most domestic violence incidents are never reported, says Safe Horizon.
These women are often exposed to a multi-faceted cycle of violence that is hard to escape, as this “Power and Control Wheel” illustrates.
Facts like these drove me to write this piece, and increased my interest in the relationship between the NFL, domestic violence and our services in Washington state. To make sure I am able to get to all this information, this will be a two-part series.
For now, I will share what I’ve learned about the prevalence of domestic violence in Washington state and the United States.
Then in the second part of this series I will explore the connection between domestic violence and the NFL.
Later this week, my colleague Perry Firth will share her reaction on this blog. She will use the NFL domestic violence scandal as a catalyst to examine domestic violence as one component of violence against women.
ONE CALL EVERY TWO MINUTES IN WASHINGTON
The National Network to End Domestic Violence, a “social change organization” committed to ending violence against women, takes an annual census, which provides a snapshot of domestic violence statistics across the nation on one day. It does this by tracking services provided to adults and children during a 24-hour window.
In the 2013 national census, 87 percent of domestic violence programs participated in the survey, revealing that they served 66,581 victims in one day (36,348 victims accessed emergency shelter, while 30,233 adults and children received non-residential assistance like counseling and legal help). Further, in that one 24-hour window, 20,267 victims experiencing domestic violence called local and state hotlines. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, a national hotline, took calls from another 550 people.
In the Washington state section of the census, 54 out of 68 domestic violence programs participated (79 percent). These providers served 2,082 victims – 575 children and 476 adults! They also answered 837 calls from the Washington hotline – that’s around 35 calls every hour, or more than a call every two minutes, just in our state.
As you can see, domestic violence is surprisingly common. However, there is more to understanding domestic violence than numbers. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend you explore The Joyful Heart Foundation website, which has some great information on who is affected by domestic violence, as well as signs of abuse.
WSCADV: WASHINGTON’S ADVOCATES AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Another great resource is the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV). This local organization partners with other domestic violence programs to help keep those experiencing domestic violence safe. From rental assistance and counseling for survivors, to advocacy and policy change, WSCADV and its partners work to remove the barriers that keep (mostly) women and children in abusive situations.
Because WSCADV is doing such wonderful work, I wanted to talk to someone who works with the organization. That is why I am so happy I got to meet with their communications director, Kelly Starr. Kelly is also the lead on the Refuse To Abuse campaign (see below).
Kelly and I talked about a lot of things, but what jumped out at me was when she said that compared to other states, “Washington falls on the national average across the board.” I was surprised that we don’t have a lower rate of domestic violence here. This means we still have a lot of work to do in our home state!
Kelly also said that she and other domestic violence advocates have noticed that over the past few years there has been a shift in culture: The public understands that domestic violence is wrong, whereas it may have been more accepted in the past. The recent public outrage during the Ray Rice scandal has confirmed this cultural evolution. We have awareness, she said; now we need action.
She believes people are now asking, What can I do to help? Who do I call? What are the signs that someone I know is in an abusive situation?
Kelly said that learning what a healthy relationship looks like is an important first step for many young women. She told me about some great WSCADV tools, including:
But if you can’t prevent domestic violence, you have to try to prevent women and children from becoming homeless as a result of it. WSCADV has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 13 pilot programs on the Housing First Project. Because so many women in abusive relationships become homeless with their children when they leave the abuser, this project gets survivors out of dangerous situations and into safe environments through tailored services, mobile advocacy, housing search support, landlord education and temporary financial assistance.
I was also glad to hear about a different type of professional sports team fighting domestic violence. WSCADV partners with the Seattle Mariners pro baseball team and the community in the Refuse to Abuse campaign.
Since 1997, the coalition has partnered with the Seattle Mariners baseball team on the Refuse to Abuse campaign, which helps get fans involved in fighting domestic violence. Stars like pitcher Felix Hernandez take a leadership role. This campaign is based on the Mariners’ iconic 1995 “Refuse to Lose” slogan during their run to the American League Championship Series; I was just a small child at the time, but most people who lived in Seattle then remember that season very well. The campaign now includes a 5K run, and was cited in a New York Times article recently as an important part of the Mariners’ culture when it comes to domestic violence prevention among players.
These are just a few of WSCADV’s efforts to end domestic violence.
However, the Coalition can’t fight domestic violence alone! They need the public’s help.
Ultimately, domestic violence won’t end unless everyone works to create a safe world for families and children.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Show your colors during Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Go Purple with the YWCA! (We’ll talk more about this in the next post.)
Call the confidential, 24-hour/7-day-a-week Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025 for domestic violence information and assistance referrals.
Visit the WSCADV website to find a list of domestic violence programs that cover everything from research and advocacy, to lists of safe housing for survivors.
Last, but not least: Simply have open conversations about domestic violence with your community. You might be surprised by what you learn. Remember, talking is power!
Stay tuned to read more about the recent domestic violence scandal in the NFL, how other NFL fans and I have reacted to it, and how widespread media coverage is shaping fan perceptions of violence against women. I’ll also talk about how one NFL superstar is taking a stand.
Are you a young female football fan, like Emma? Have you learned more about domestic violence because of the NFL situation? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Families now make up a THIRD of the homeless population; a typical homeless family in a shelter is a woman with two children. Throughout our history, FaithTrust Institute has sought to address the complex dynamics of domestic and sexual violence, particularly the faith and cultural aspects of abuse. The psychological impacts of witnessing and experiencing violence have lifelong effects. The isolation of domestic violence leaves many women without a stable, independent source of income or credit history. It can also destroy social networks and support systems. Without the means to rent an apartment and no close relationships, a woman and her children who are fleeing – sometimes for their lives – have nowhere to go.
Women of faith experience domestic violence within the context of their belief system; religion and religious teachings will be either a resource or a roadblock. Especially at a time of crisis, a woman needs to know that her faith community values her wellbeing. I believe that we as helpers should never put a woman in the position of having to choose between safety and the support of her faith community. She needs both. And it’s up to us to provide that.