February 3, 2014 in City

Downtown church hosts homeless at Super Bowl bash

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Troy Plowden, center, celebrates the game-opening Seahawks safety at a Super Bowl party Sunday at First Covenant Church in Spokane. The downtown church caters to the poor and homeless population with regular Sunday dinners, and the Super Bowl event was the last one for a while as the church looks for a new home.
(Full-size photo)

For a few hundred people in Spokane, Sunday’s Super Bowl was more than a chance to cheer their Seahawks to a decisive victory or puzzle over how their Broncos fell so flat.

It was a break from the winter cold and respite from the hard life of homelessness. And for some, it was a farewell to a popular Sunday dinner they’ve come to regard as a family gathering.

“A little bit of normalcy” is how Don Salbeck put it.

He’s been out of work five months and staying at a downtown shelter while looking for a job. Awaiting kickoff on a TV in the corner, Salbeck sat at a table inside First Covenant Church, rolling cigarettes.

In the kitchen, volunteers finished preparing sloppy Joes, twice-baked potatoes, coleslaw, football cupcakes and the obligatory Skittles for a crowd approaching 100.

“I appreciate it,” he said, looking around the church hall adorned with blue, green and white streamers. “Because when this is done, we’re back out there running from one thing to another, trying to survive.”

Salbeck, a Packers fan who grudgingly rooted for Seattle, said being homeless is a draining experience. “These people deserve something” to lift their spirits and include them in a tradition celebrated by millions of Americans, he said.

This is the fourth Super Bowl dinner party hosted at the brick church at Second Avenue and Division Street. And it may be the last.

First Covenant needs to move in the next few months to make way for Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, a Reformed Christian megachurch that is in the process of buying the building. It’s looking for a new home.

Year-round, these Sunday gatherings – for football, March Madness, NASCAR – have allowed First Covenant to build ties to the faces that populate downtown.

“When we began here we said let’s get to know our neighbors,” pastor Rob Bryceson said. “Well, our neighbors are homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes.”

Those who come in for the free meals and TV time include urban campers, shelter dwellers and some barely hanging on to subsidized housing, Bryceson said. They make up roughly a third of the church congregation.

Scott Steen has shown up since the gatherings began and is sorry to see them end. He said he enjoys the companionship and swapping stories with others.

“There’s no judgment,” said Steen, a longtime Seahawks fan who traded good-natured jabs Sunday with a Broncos supporter. “You’re accepted for who you are.”

Losing the Sunday dinners will create heartache in the family, Steen said. “It’s going to leave a major hole.”

This wasn’t the only party for football fans who lack homes. Union Gospel Mission served brunch at its men’s shelter on Trent Avenue and invited men, women and children to watch the game in the chapel or the day area.

Jennifer Bais was there with her children, daughter Jalisa, 9, and son Joshua, 8. All are big Seahawks fans, Bais said. They’ve been homeless for two years.

“They love the Super Bowl and they love the Seahawks,” she said. “They’ve been fans since they were babies.”

Jalisa pumped her fist in the air after Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown.

“Football is our bonding moment,” Bais said.

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