KIRKLAND – A $125,000 donation from the New Bethlehem Project means homeless families on the Eastside can stay in an overnight shelter during the summer and early fall for the first time.
“In a leap of faith and trust that God will provide, we said, ‘Let’s take some of the money we’ve got saved and do Phase 2,’” said Andrea Liggett, pastoral assistant for outreach and social advocacy at Holy Family Parish in Kirkland.
Phase 1 was raising $500,000 and opening the New Bethlehem Day Center for families in November 2016. The long-range plan is establishing a permanent 24-hour, year-round family shelter in Kirkland, and progress is being made on that goal, Liggett said.
It’s all the mission of the New Bethlehem Project, a consortium of faith and community organizations that includes Holy Family Parish, St. Louise Parish in Bellevue, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and Salt House Church in Kirkland (where the day center is located).
The day center, now open six days a week from 2-8 p.m., gives homeless families a safe place where they can take showers, do laundry, eat snacks and meals provided by volunteers, use computers, meet with an on-site case manager and be connected to various social services.
Jacqueline Snedeker, right, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish in Kirkland, takes a break with Sharron Price while folding towels at the New Bethlehem Day Center in Kirkland. Families can take showers and do laundry at the center, which opened in November 2016. Photo: Courtesy the New Bethlehem Project
“A large majority of our families are new to homelessness,” said CCS Program Manager Natalia Pierson. “They can come in here with nothing and they can get their basic needs met.”
In its first eight months, the day center has served 305 clients in 89 households, 36 of them headed by single moms or dads, Pierson said. Other local homeless services are set up to help women with children or single men or women, so “the fact that we’re able to keep families together is huge,” she said.
Of those seeking help at the day center, five people have gotten jobs, six families were referred to shelter and 15 families have found permanent or transitional housing, Pierson said.
Some families can afford to pay rent, but can’t secure housing because of an eviction or the inability to pay initial move-in costs, which can be a couple thousand dollars, she said. So the New Bethlehem Day Center staff has worked with organizations like CCS, St. Vincent de Paul and Hopelink to help with those costs. They’ve also referred families to organizations like Attain Housing and are reaching out to private landlords to see if they might be willing to “give these families a try,” she said.
Families who come to the day center typically spend their nights at a safe parking lot at a nearby United Methodist church, or at the Eastside emergency shelter (usually open only in the winter months), Pierson said.
Ann Marie Brandes, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish in Kirkland, serves a meal she provided for families at the New Bethlehem Day Center in Kirkland. Volunteers are needed to bring meals to the day center and an overnight family shelter, also in Kirkland. Photo: Andrea Liggett
Now, with the donation from the New Bethlehem Project, the family shelter is staying open an additional five months, from May 15 to Oct. 15, this year. But CCS is working with Eastside cities and King County to make sure that operating funding continues next year, said Bill Hallerman, CCS agency director for King County.
In the meantime, volunteers are needed to provide meals for families staying at the overnight shelter (currently hosted at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church), as well as at the day center.
“We have great volunteers, a lot of them from the local parish,” Pierson said. For people who “don’t often see the face of homelessness,” volunteering at the day center is an opportunity to realize that “these people aren’t scary — they’re just like you, their kids are in school, they’re working, they’re trying to make things work,” she added.
“We’re just really blessed,” said Liggett, of Holy Family. “People in our parish and the Eastside community are extremely generous and when they are made aware of the issue, they are supportive of it.”