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Jan. 20, 2021

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Clark County churches take turns providing overnight shelter to homeless families

Congregations have weekly rotation in host role for Family Promise of Clark County

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
5 Photos
Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church Pastor Susan Boegli, left, and Jean Brown prepare a bedroom for guests arriving Wednesday night. The church is taking a turn hosting Family Promise of Clark County, a new shelter that rotates to a different congregation each week. “Sunday when people come to church this will all be put away,” Brown said.
Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church Pastor Susan Boegli, left, and Jean Brown prepare a bedroom for guests arriving Wednesday night. The church is taking a turn hosting Family Promise of Clark County, a new shelter that rotates to a different congregation each week. “Sunday when people come to church this will all be put away,” Brown said. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County’s newest family shelter opened March 31.

Where is it located? It depends on the week.

Family Promise of Clark County provides overnight shelter for up to 14 people at a different congregation each week. This week, the shelter is Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church, which is hosting four families with children.

The Rev. Susan Boegli was introduced to Family Promise (back when it was called the Interfaith Hospitality network) when she was associate pastor at a church in Salem, Ore. Before moving to Battle Ground, she lived in Alaska, where a group was trying to get an affiliate started in Juneau.

So, when Family Promise of Clark County board president Mike Pervere contacted her and said he was trying to start a local affiliate, she said “yes” to him presenting at her church.

“People from the congregation have to see the beauty of it and be the driving force,” Boegli said.

Congregant Jean Brown said the church initially agreed to be a support church, providing meals and volunteers to host churches. But, as she learned more about the program and talked with pastors around the county, she wondered: Why couldn’t their small Battle Ground church take in people for just a week?

The decision “didn’t happen overnight, but I think it was pretty quick in church time” — about two weeks, Brown said. People had fears, doubts and questions, and she tried to quell them; Family Promise has been around since 1986 and has more than 200 affiliates, so there isn’t a situation or roadblock that the national organization hasn’t already dealt with, she said. There are nearby Family Promise affiliates in Longview, Beaverton, Ore., Tigard, Ore., and Hillsboro, Ore.

Intimate program

At Battle Ground Community United Methodist, a series of cots were set up in a small worship room, a classroom, a nursery and even a cordoned-off area of the sanctuary. The lobby became a play area, lounge and dining room. It took some creative thinking to effectively turn portions of the church into temporary hotel rooms for the week.

It was set up Sunday, April 7 after services and will be taken down before services this Sunday, the cots hauled to the next host congregation. Brown said it’ll be smooth sailing when they next host people in July.

“You don’t need to have much to be a part of this,” Boegli said.

“Well, we have the heart,” Brown added.

She asked her quilting groups to make 20 pillowcases for the effort, and she ended up with 69 pillowcases.

Boegli welcomes other congregations to visit her church and see how they’ve set up the space. So far, she said, her congregants are energized and inspired by the volunteer experience.

“One of the most beautiful things is these four families are becoming a family in and of themselves,” Boegli said. “The teenagers are reading to the children, the 8-year-old is hiding Easter eggs for the 3-year-old, one of the dads is talking to another couple and saying ‘we’re in this together.’ There’s just a beautiful connection that’s happening with these four families.”

With a maximum of 14 people participating, it’s an intimate program and congregants can really get to know people in the program.

“It’s like hosting somebody in your own house,” said Pervere, the board president.

‘All means and manners’

He said the idea to open an affiliate began after the national organization held local information sessions, including one at his church, Salmon Creek United Methodist Church. Pervere was initially drawn to the idea because he saw it as a way for his church to work together on a local mission and build a sense of community and common purpose. Family Promise of Clark County formed in December 2016, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, so it’s taken a while to officially launch.

A group of interested people went through “all means and manners” to find host churches like Battle Ground Community United Methodist. In total, there are 10 host churches and eight support churches. Ideally, they’ll build a network of 13 host churches so each church shelters people about four times per year.

While the overnight shelter changes weekly, one place that doesn’t change is the day center, located at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Camas.

Family Promise of Clark County Executive Director Linda Winnett described it as “the hub” — the place where people do laundry, shower, store their belongings, access the phone and computer and hang out. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and families come and go. Every evening, a 15-passenger van transports them from the day center to that week’s host congregation.

While Winnett is the only full-time employee, Family Promise also has a part-time volunteer coordinator/van driver, and a part-time case manager is starting soon. As part of her role, Winnett develops individualized plans with families based on their barriers to housing and meets with them weekly.

She has a background working with at-risk youth and said she was attracted to the role because the Family Promise model has proven outcomes. According to the national organization, 82 percent of participants move on to permanent and stable housing within nine weeks.

Family Promise of Clark County costs $150,000 annually, which is primarily the cost of staff and rent. Pervere said that figure doesn’t reflect the total amount of resources the program uses, often leveraging in-kind donations and volunteers. Somebody, for instance, is covering rent for an entire year. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust donated $40,000 to purchase the van, the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund provided $37,500 in matching funds, and Cascade Presbyterian Church covered the cost to buy a trailer that hauls supplies and belongings from church to church.

No faith rules

Participants don’t have to be of a certain faith or take part in religious services to be in the program.

Katherine Radeka, who heads Family Promise’s communications committee, said the point isn’t to proselytize. However, volunteering congregants do get to live out their faith in a concrete way.

“That’s what Jesus tells us to do is to welcome the stranger, to take care of the people who are the neediest in our society,” said Radeka, who attends St. Thomas Aquinas. “There’s no doubt the services are needed because people are living on the streets.”

Family Promise differs from already existing ecumenical responses to homelessness. The Winter Hospitality Overflow shelter system has been around since 2003 and just wrapped up its season at the end of March; it’s always hosted at the same two churches and does not include a day center. SafePark allows homeless people to stay overnight in their cars in designated church parking lots.

Families are referred to the program through the Council for the Homeless. Executive Director Kate Budd said the Housing Hotline triages people and sends referrals to Family Promise like any other shelter program in Clark County.

“We’re glad to have another sheltering option in the community,” Budd said.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith