The First Congregational Church of Bellingham. // Photo by Kevin Lake
By Rachel Alexander
Family Promise of Whatcom County opened its doors to serve families experiencing homelessness across the greater Bellingham area on April 2.
Family Promise utilizes churches to provide housing at night and care and aid to families during the day, said Sarah Lane, director of Family Promise. At the host congregations, families receive dinner, community, faith and home-like accommodations.
Family Promise has a full house currently after filling up in just three days, Lane said.
There are no other organizations in the area that will take full families together, Lane said. Everywhere else, the men and boys are separated from the women and girls.
“Our program allows families to come together and to stay together,” she said.
One in 26 kids in Whatcom County experienced homelessness in the 2015-2016 school year, Lane said.
“When we address family homelessness, we’re also addressing a lot of other issues that
we struggle with,” she said.
Lane also said that a lot of these people have burned bridges or have become isolated or disconnected in some way.
Organizations like Family Promise have the potential to strengthen the fabric of the community, she said. Lane has had firsthand experience in seeing how this organization really helps people.
“I’m learning just how strong people are and just how strong families are,” Lane said.
Family Promise is part of the Whatcom County Interfaith Coalition, whose goal is to put faith into action and change the community for the better, according to their website. Interfaith Coalition has been around since 1981. Over time, they have tried to take care of the most pressing community needs, Lane said.
“Volunteers and families are meeting each other where they’re at,” Lane said.
Volunteers have freedom to act out their faith and to love people by serving and connecting with them, she said.
Family Promise of Whatcom County is currently looking to incorporate college students as much as possible, Lane said.
“I would encourage people to form a community, we can plug people in at host congregations,” she said.
Western Community Outreach co-president, Hannah Svendsen, said there are many ways people can contribute to the community. Places like Family Promise, the Bellingham Food Bank, Lydia’s Place and the Lighthouse Mission Drop-In Center are always looking for volunteers.
“There are so many organizations that would love more help,” Svendsen said.
Svendsen said building community and relationships are just as important.
“It’s so valuable to listen to [the homeless] and make sure that they know that they’re seen,” she said.
In the future, Lane hopes Family Promise will soon be able to help families that are at risk of becoming homeless and to help keep them from falling into homelessness.