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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Struggling Family’s Prayers Heard Interfaith Hospitality Network Helps With Shelter, Work, Transportation

Pam Myers swallows her worst fears every time she scrutinizes her three small children in their prim South Hill home.

Between the two bedrooms and the converted laundry room, it’s the most spacious sleeping arrangements her family of five - soon to be six - has had in years.

Her husband’s swing-shift job as a cook is steady. The van in the garage runs.

She prays every night, “Please God, don’t take this away.”

A few months ago, the family had nothing: no home, no car, no job.

Now they are “normal,” John Myers jokes. He goes to work every day. Their oldest daughter heads a few blocks to kindergarten. Their yard is spacious. They even got a puppy.

They attribute their amazing turnaround to God, who they say touched their lives through a new Spokane program for homeless families.

“We had never lost everything at once,” he says. “But we’ve never landed on our feet the way we have now, either.”

The Myers were among the first guests of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Spokane, a group of churches that has offered shelter and support to homeless families for the past nine months.

Participating families agree to actively pursue jobs, housing and whatever else they need to get on their feet.

So far, of the 25 families that have been admitted, 18 have found permanent housing and jobs - a 72 percent success rate.

Even with those odds, the task seemed formidable for the big Myers family, with three children between 1-1/2 and 5 years old, and a baby on the way.

As a couple, they’ve been together for eight years, been married for five. John, 39, supported the family as a cook. Pam, 25, raised the children.

They were living in a four-bedroom rental house in Coeur d’Alene last year with seven other people - friends and extended family.

In March 1996, they fell so far behind on the utility bill, the power was shut off. So they moved out.

“You cannot live without power if you have kids,” Pam Myers says.

They were helped by Interfaith for a few weeks, then followed relatives to Las Vegas, where they heard there were good-paying jobs.

“It was the worst mistake we ever made,” John Myers says.

Las Vegas was cold and unfriendly. The poverty they saw was desperate. They couldn’t envision their lives getting better - only worse. “Everywhere you went there was prostitution and drugs,” Pam Myers says. “Children everywhere were wearing just rags. And dirty and hungry. I couldn’t hardly stand it.”

They parked the truck loaded with their belongings at a St. Vincent de Paul warehouse for safety while they lived in a motel with weekly rates. Through a mix-up with the employees, the contents of the truck were sold. The family was given a few bags of clothes to compensate for its loss.

After three months, they retreated to Spokane on a bus. The night of their arrival, Pam and the kids stayed at Ogden Hall. John slept at the Union Gospel Mission.

The next morning, John Myers walked to the Interfaith office and pleaded to get his family readmitted.

For the next four weeks, his family made its home in four different churches. They slept in Sunday School rooms and dined on folding tables.

The Interfaith Hospitality Network was founded in Manhattan in 1986, when churches joined forces to house homeless families. There are more than 40 such organizations nationwide.

In Spokane, a different host church each week provides beds, dinners and breakfasts for up to 16 people. Volunteers from the host and support churches supply the meals and transportation, and spend the night with the families.

It takes up to 60 volunteers a week. The only paid staff are the two case managers, with one doubling as director.

The structure of the program keeps the commitment manageable for volunteers, says Dick Raymond of Knox Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Trudy, have always been supportive of Union Gospel Mission, but describe their dedication as “in absentia” until their church joined Interfaith.

“What a great use for a church facility that goes largely unused during the evening and overnight,” he says. “It’s one of those things where if you think about it, it’s like getting struck by lightning. You say, ‘Oh yeah, what a good idea. We could do that.”’

During the day, the families go to a center, where Interfaith Director T.J. Sather supervises their search for jobs and housing.

For the Myers family, the system proved speedy and thorough.

A Realtor from one church showed them a fully furnished house for rent. A volunteer from Valley Baptist gave them a great deal on the van.

“To find a job, a house and a van all at once? That just doesn’t happen. God had to be at work here,” John Myers says.

Pam Myers was impressed by how different denominations cooperated.

“We never felt like they judged us for being homeless,” she says. “At some shelters, you’re treated like you are a lower class than the staff. Not with this.”

John Myers got the impression people were actually excited to be helping him.

He was right, says Jeanine Norton of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

“It’s a real sensation to help people in need,” she says. “We try to intercept before they get out onto the streets and lose all hope.”

It worked for the Myers family. They are living the American dream, albeit ever so tenuously. Their health insurance is Medicaid. John Myers has to supplement his income as a cook with money he earns cleaning homes.

Thus Pam Myers’ prayers have become a litany: “God, please keep my husband healthy. Please keep the utility bills low. Please let the van start. Please protect me, so I can protect my family.”

John Myers is more optimistic about the future.

“We have all these people. It’s a network,” he says. “The problem with being poor is you are usually locked out of the network that everybody (who isn’t poor) has access to.

“They gave us the key.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo