A dozen Spokane churches may become homeless shelters next year, taking in up to 14 people at a time.
“This is an in-house response from the people of God and Christ to a problem in our community,” said the Rev. John Vaswig, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. “That doesn’t happen in most churches.”
The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Spokane is a coalition of churches that have formed one big rotating shelter.
Rather than just donating money to mission projects, the church members will be cooking, eating and spending the night with homeless people - an example set by Jesus Christ, Vaswig said.
If the board gets enough money and congregations signed up, it will work like this:
Twelve host churches will open their doors one week every three months to homeless families - up to 14 people each night. Members of the congregations will cook the families dinner, spend the night at the church with them, feed them breakfast and then pack them a lunch.
During the day, the families will go to work or school or to Interfaith’s day facility - the parsonage at First Covenant Church, 212 S. Division - where a social worker will help them find permanent housing.
The average family will stay in the program 60 days.
“This is hopefully also a way to involve them in a community,” said Linda Barnes, the network’s president of the board. “Maybe as they rotate around they will see something they like at one of these churches and get connected.”
Before they start, the group needs one more host church, a dozen support churches, a big passenger van and about $35,000 to help pay a director.
More than a dozen churches are considering involvement.
Vaswig said he is disappointed that the planning process, which began 18 months ago, is not yet complete.
“The delay of funding has created a vacuum or void, where it has become difficult to sustain the momentum that was initially there,” he said.
A Thanksgiving Day concert at The Met intended to raise money bombed because of the ice storm that left more than 100,000 homes and businesses without power in the area.
While several churches are considering making annual donations to the cause, only a handful have taken the step of writing those donations into their annual budgets, Barnes said.
“You have to allow churches a long time to make a line-item in their budget,” she said.
Barnes estimates it will cost the host churches about $200 for food each week they have families staying with them. At least two church members - a man and a woman - will spend the night with the families.
The network is targeting families because they are the least served among the homeless. Most shelters require women and males over age 12 to sleep in separate facilities. That forces husbands and wives to split up and even separates teenage boys from their mothers and younger siblings.
The Salvation Army runs the only family shelter in Spokane. Its 14 rooms are often full.
Similar church shelter networks are operating in 38 other cities across the country. Founded in New Jersey, the national offices of Interfaith Hospitality offer local groups a blueprint for getting an operation up and running.
They help smooth the road for congregations worried about insurance and liability, as well as theft and disruption to other functions like weddings and funerals.
“We have to remember we are not about buildings, we’re about ministry,” Vaswig said. “Buildings allow ministry to occur.”
That has been an important lesson for his congregation to remember. Prince of Peace is preparing to break ground on a $2.3 million church this spring on the North Side.
“This has served as a balance for us; we remember who we are,” he said.
“It’s not just about growing in terms of numbers, it’s about growing in terms of faith and response to neighbors in need.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Involved churches Spokane congregations that have agreed to serve as host churches include: Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 3909 W. Rowan. St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 316 E. 24th. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 304 S. Adams. Manito Presbyterian Church, 401 E. 30th. Whitworth Presbyterian Church, 212 E. Hawthorne. Spokane Valley Baptist Church, 1222 S. McDonald. Audubon Terrace Reformed Latter-day Saints Church, 4004 N. Belt. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 1503 W. Dean. Knox Presbyterian Church, 806 W. Knox. Manito United Methodist Church, 3220 S. Grand Blvd. First Church of the Nazarene, 9004 N. Country Homes Blvd.