The Sunday Oregonian - in an article written by Nancy Haught - focuses attention this week on how churches are responding to the growing crisis of homelessness:
Families with children account for 56 percent of Multnomah County's homeless population, says Jean DeMaster, executive director of Human Solutions, a nonprofit focusing on housing issues. The county's most recent homeless statistics -- the annual One Night Shelter Count -- found 4,187 individuals in shelters on Jan. 28, 2009. The total included 2,333 members of one- or two-parent families. On that particular night, 388 people from families were turned away.You'll also find a few quotes from me in the article:
Homeless families present special challenges for those trying to help. Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury calls them a "silent population." Single- and two-parent families may stay with relatives or friends, she says, maybe separating children if no one can keep them all. Also, many parents are reluctant to admit they're homeless for fear that authorities will take away their children. And traditional shelters often aren't equipped to take in families.
THE REV. CHUCK CURRIE, a United Church of Christ minister who works on behalf of the homeless, believes that while churches can do more, many are already pitching in -- despite struggles with declining attendance, shrinking budgets or the needs of their members.Click here for the full story.
Religious communities have helped organize long-standing programs focused on the homeless, he said, naming just a few: Transition Projects Inc., JOIN, SnowCap Community Charities and the Interfaith Committee on Homelessness in Washington County.
"It isn't the job of the faith community to take care of all those who are homeless," Currie says. "Churches, just like nonprofits and social service agencies, are subject to the downward spiral of the economy."
Currie is working with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon to convene congregations, educators, elected officials and business leaders for a February summit to look at homelessness.
In the meantime, churches are helping. Ten downtown congregations support Portland Homeless Family Solutions, the nonprofit that operates the overnight Goose Hollow Family Shelter and Thirteen Salmon Family Center, a daytime shelter that opened in November.
In the coming weeks, I'll write more about the plans underway by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon to host an event in February - during the state Legislative session - that will be part of a year-long effort to draw attention to the needs of homeless families and homeless youth attending public schools.
Let me also note one correction to the story published by The Oregonian. JOIN was not started by the faith community. However, JOIN has developed successful partnerships with local faith communities that I know impact that organization's terrific work assisting those who live on our streets.
And if you are looking for just one step to take to help those who are homeless in Oregon today - just one small but important step - fill out your ballot and vote Yes on Measures 66 and 67.