By Heidi Scott
For a majority of Americans, the difference between keeping and losing their home is just a matter of days or a little bad luck.
In the Spokane area, it is almost impossible to know exactly how many people have been left without permanent shelter. Causes of homelessness can include events like serious illness, sudden job loss, crime, addictions, lack of role models, and mental illness. Shelters and services have long been established to help these folks get back on their feet, with varying degrees of success. But the fact remains, there are still far too many people who are homeless in the region.
According to Catholic Charities, the definition of homelessness covers anyone living in someplace that is uninhabitable or that is not considered to be a place to live. This can include cars, tents, homeless shelters, or friend’s couches.
Catholic Charities Spokane is endeavoring to address the problem in a somewhat revolutionary way. Rather than following the tradition of giving away services and hoping people change their circumstances, Catholic Charities is giving homes to the homeless. And with that problem solved, they can then work to help new residents succeed in other aspects of their lives.
Monique Kolonko, executive vice president of Stabilization Services and Housing said, “We aren’t doing anything special. We are simply giving them housing and wrapping services around them. We move them a little bit along on the continuum as they’re ready to move on. To us, it’s what we do every day.”
Catholic Charities’ provides free/subsidized housing to communities in Pasco, Othello, Colville, Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Walla Walla, in addition to their already robust low-income program. Over 450 units are currently available, each accepting from 1 to 8 people. This means that over 1,000 heads can safely find rest.
Kolonko added, “No matter the size of the family, there are options for housing.”
Catholic Charities isn’t slowing down. The latest property is the Pope Francis Haven, which opened its doors in September in Spokane Valley. Next month, Father Back Haven III Apartments will be providing another 50 units. To follow their mission to set residents up for success, nearly all of the apartment buildings and homes are within walking distance to transit, banks, shopping, restaurants, and schools.
For children in these families, this means they can attend the same school all year, and even until they graduate. For too many of them, this will be the first time they can enjoy this luxury. A collaborative program called H.E.A.R.T (Homeless Education and Resource Team) is working to help identify and place families in these homes.
Leslie Camden Goold, school social worker/ McKinney-Vento homeless liaison with the Central Valley School District praised the newest building.
“Pope Francis Haven is an amazing housing opportunity for families in Spokane Valley. Not only is the apartment complex beautiful, but it offers so many supports for our CVSD families. The onsite social service coordinator is a much-needed support for families as they move forward and build a strong future. There is also a computer lab, community area with kitchen, and indoor play area for kids, which are invaluable to students and their families. It is a blessing that Catholic Charities saw the need in our community and chose to build Pope Francis Haven in Spokane Valley. Together we are working to help families find a way out of homelessness,” she said.
H.E.A.R.T. does more than just identify families, it also works alongside Catholic Charities during the application process, which can be daunting. The application process begins with a simple, 2-page online application and ends with over an inch of paperwork. The sheer volume is daunting to anyone.
The hardest part of the process for many people is the documentation. Kolonko points out, “When you’re not even sure where you’re going to sleep that night, documentation is one of the last things you’d think of. If you think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they are on the bottom, focusing purely on survival.”
H.E.A.R.T. helps find things like driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
Once new residents move in, social services workers connect them to the strong network of services available. Coordinators create many on-site opportunities to help families feel more comfortable with their new home and neighbors. The importance of school work is modelled to kids, often for the first time. Families learn how to keep their home clean and maintained. Volunteers teach classes on a variety of topics, like food preparation, finances, yoga, and painting.
Many of the volunteers that lead these classes come from other faith-based organizations. The 7th Day Adventists provide fresh produce from their community garden every week, to supplement a healthy diet.
But with all this, the need is still great. Currently there are enough applications in the pipeline to fill another 50 units, just at Pope Francis Haven. And every time a new property is opened, more people are discovered.
The question still begs to be answered, is it working? Does it make a difference to just give homeless people homes?
So far, the program isn’t old enough to know for sure the long-term effects, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is making a big difference. In the Father Bach Haven apartments, opened in 2013, only five of the original 50 lost their home due to mental health or incarceration. Some of the kids who grew up in these homes have come back to visit after attending college, to tell staff members they are doing well.
Kolonko encourages neighborhoods to welcome these properties and to support them.
“Everyone’s story is different. Nobody raises their children with the aspiration to be homeless. Many of these people literally come with what they can carry,” Kolonko said.
Home goods, linens, and furnishings are always welcome. Material donations can be dropped off at Catholic Charities at 12 East 5th Avenue.
If you are interested in volunteering or helping in any way, contact Monique Kolonko at 509-459-6187 or email@example.com
If you are able to support in a larger way, Catholic Charities wishes to continue to build more units until the homelessness problem is solved. CEO Rob McCann’s dream is to build an apartment for every homeless, registered person in Spokane. His vision is that availability should never be the reason for a person to be homeless.
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