| 03.18.2018

Interfaith initiative to improve inequality


Homeless families in the Moscow-Pullman area are all but invisible, but Bruce Pitman said the problem most definitely isn’t. 

“Homeless families are invisible because they couch surf or they are put into living situations where there are other families or other family members,” said Pitman, board president for Family Promise of the Palouse and dean of students at the University of Idaho. “They are squeezed into places that aren’t healthy for the children.”

Family Promise is a national non-profit organization with 180 independent affiliates around the country. Any one program in a particular community would have the capacity to help two to four families (parent or parents with children) or 12-13 people at a time. Family Promise of the Palouse hopes to begin providing services in early summer.

“Quite simply in the Moscow Pullman area, we don’t have facilities for families,” Pitman said. “The services that we have for families in this kind of distress are extremely limited.”

The services are limited and the need is great. Steve Bonnar is the director of Sojourner’s Alliance, a transitional housing facility in Moscow that offers long-term housing. He said their facilities for families are extremely limited and they can only house two families at a time.

“An absolutely prime example is (Feb. 19), we turned away 15 households in one day,” Bonnar said. “Of those 15 households, eight were families. It was one of the worst days we’ve ever had.”

Bonnar said their program turns away between 10 and 20 households a week, two-thirds to three-quarters of which are families.

“Our program focuses on long-term stabilization,” Bonnar said. “I see a lot of people who are just needing 2 to 3 months to get back up on their feet. They may be working and don’t have enough for a deposit and first month’s rent to get in to an apartment.”

That’s where Family Promise comes in.

“There isn’t really a place where a family can stay together and work through this difficult time and come out on the other side as a family who is staying together and being functional,” Pitman said.  “So that’s what Family Promise tries to do — tries to keep the families together and work through whatever difficulties they are having.”

The program relies on local churches to house families overnight and provide evening meals, Pitman said. The families rotate to a different church each week. During the day, children go to school or daycare and the parents go to the day center where there are showers, laundry facilities and computers, among other services.

“They will also be able to receive support related to building resumés, job searches or whatever the case worker feels they need,” Pitman said. “The object obviously is to give them a safe place to be (in the evening), support from volunteers in the community and then, in essence, a place of business to be in the daytime.”

Although churches are involved, the Family Promise organization strictly forbids proselytizing. In fact, there are many different faith perspectives represented among the churches involved, Pitman said.

“This is about meeting people’s needs, this is not about faith conversion,” Pitman said. “There are a lot of churches who would generally not agree on much of anything who are indeed agreeing to work together on this particular set of concerns.”

The biggest challenge the organization is currently facing is raising enough funds to become operational, Pitman said.

“(Fundraising is a challenge) because this is a non-governmental solution to homelessness,” Pitman said. “We have been doing grant writing to get some foundational support, but we are also going to church congregations and individuals who are interested in supporting this.”

Pitman said they are hoping to begin providing services to local families in need during the first part of summer.

“There are a lot of people who are really in distress … any number of reasons may put them in a situation where they get evicted or are forced to make a change,” Pitman said. “We are just grateful for all the support we’ve received thus far.”

Kaitlin Moroney can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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