KIRKLAND – Dan Daring and his family of three adults and five kids were homeless and desperately trying to stay together after being evicted. Because Daring was employed, the family didn’t qualify for assistance programs, and local homeless shelters served either single men or women with children.
“We had seriously started to give up and were looking at ways to split us up” — including quitting his career — “and head to different states,” Daring wrote in a testimonial.
That all changed in November 2016 when the family walked through the doors of the New Bethlehem Day Center in Kirkland.
They were the first clients of the day shelter that is a partnership of Holy Family Parish in Kirkland, St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and Salt House Church in Kirkland.
Since then, the center, hosted at Salt House, has helped 192 families with essential services including meals, showers, laundry facilities, computer access and case management. Of those families, 82 have been helped into stable housing, including 45 moving into permanent housing.
But the New Bethlehem Project, the brainchild of Holy Family Parish, has always included the vision of a year-round, day and overnight shelter to help homeless families on the Eastside. That way, families wouldn’t have to leave at 8 p.m. and sleep in their cars or travel to an overnight shelter, often requiring multiple bus transfers.
A plan to build the year-round shelter took shape and Father Kurt Nagel, pastor at Holy Family, asked his parishioners in a February homily to reach into their pockets once again.
“At Bethlehem Jesus, Mary, and Joseph slept exposed to the cold in a cave used as a stable,” he said. “They needed emergency shelter that night in Bethlehem, but there was no place for them. Other children of God are still knocking on the doors of the inn — and still sleeping exposed to the elements. This project is the way I believe the Holy Spirit wants us to answer their knock. Let’s build a bigger inn.”
New Bethlehem was asked to contribute $1 million toward the shelter’s $9 million budget for construction and initial operating costs. So far, parishioners from Holy Family and St. Louise have raised over $800,000 of that.
Groundbreaking is expected in spring of 2019 on a day/overnight shelter in Kirkland that will serve homeless families on one floor and homeless women on the other. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services
‘A real blessing’
Father Nagel told his parishioners he’s donating 10 percent of his yearly salary toward the permanent shelter. St. Louise’s pastor, Father Gary Zender, is also donating part of his salary, and his parish will donate any funds that surpass its Annual Catholic Appeal goal, said Rebecca Nightingale, a St. Louise parishioner who chairs the NBP fund development committee.
Including donations from other Catholic parishioners and community members, NBP has raised $930,000 of the $1 million, Nightingale added.
The two-story shelter will serve New Bethlehem families on one floor, with overnight accommodations for 12 to 18 families. The other floor will be leased by The Sophia Way, a nonprofit that helps homeless adult women.
The majority of funding for the 100-bed shelter, nearly $7 million, has come from government sources — the city of Kirkland (which bought a piece of property from Salt House Church for the shelter site), King County and the state. Another $1 million is the responsibility of The Sophia Way; so far the organization and its supporters have raised $640,000.
Besides the parishes, there are “a lot of people in the Eastside communities wanting to help,” said Bill Hallerman, agency director for CCS of King County and a Holy Family parishioner. “It’s a real blessing, that’s for sure.”
More donations are needed, not just for construction, but also for ongoing operating costs. (See box for how to donate.)
It’s expected that ground will be broken in the spring of 2019 for the shelter, which will be owned by CCS once it’s completed in 2020.
“In some ways, it’s a microcosm of what we [at CCS] want to do, partnering with parishes to work with the poor and vulnerable,” Hallerman said of the year-round shelter. “This is a great example of how that happens when a parish is excited about the ministry, but needs help with structure and a nonprofit.”
The importance of community
The shelter is staffed by CCS, but volunteers are essential to serving families who walk through the doors of the shelter. They come from Holy Family and St. Louise, Salt House, other faith groups and the community at large. Organizers say more volunteers are always needed.
Volunteer Gretchen Schaefer, a member of St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, serves meals each week to homeless families visiting the New Bethlehem Day Center in Kirkland. In addition, Schaefer and a group of women prepare and deliver a meal each month as a service project. Photo: Rebecca Nightingale
Every week, Gretchen Schaefer, a St. Louise parishioner, sets out meals, washes dishes and, if time allows, works with children in the “family room.”
“We make them feel as at home and comfortable as possible,” said Schaefer, a member of NBP’s steering and volunteer committees. “I can’t imagine being homeless and how devastating that would be,” she said.
Some guests at the shelter are employed but lost their housing because of medical bills or debt, Schaefer said. “Eviction rates have increased and these people who are in an economic downturn are on the streets, in this community,” she said. “It’s deplorable.”
But NBP is about more than providing essential services. It’s important that “our guests feel a real sense of community here — the kind of community where you feel belonging and ownership of the space,” NBP program manager Amber North said in an email.
Faith Lowery appreciates that the center is “a completely nonjudgmental place,” she wrote in a testimonial for CCS. Lowery and her family — daughter Cathleen Davidson and granddaughters Lilly Scott and Riley Scott — have been coming to NBP since 2016.
“They get to play, and to be with other kids who are experiencing the same thing,” Lowery wrote of her granddaughters. “Even after we were in an apartment, the kids wanted to return because they loved it so much.”
Five years ago, Holy Family Parish identified “service” as an area where it needed to grow, Father Nagel said in an email. “We have made a deliberate effort to reach out to those in need as a way to grow as disciples of Christ. The New Bethlehem Project is a concrete example of that.”
Correction: This article originally stated that Holy Family and St. Louise had raised $700,000. The actual amount was over $800,000. We regret the error.
Help homeless families
You can help families who come to the New Bethlehem Project shelter by donating items, volunteering or providing a meal; or by donating to the NBP permanent shelter — donate online or send checks to: Catholic Community Services, Attn: Eastside Cares, 100 23rd Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98144.
Learn the history
Read Father Kurt Nagel’s February 2018 homily, which highlights the history of the New Bethlehem Project.