Growing up in the Midwest, I moved around quite a bit, but there was always one constant: a place my family and I called home. Whatever happened in school, in the neighborhood, or on the sports fields was tolerable, because I could go to my own home and know I was safe, comfortable and loved.
But for too many of our neighbors, there is no home. Men, women, children and babies are living rough. The homeless among us seem invisible. If you can't see them, then maybe they are gone. Maybe they found homes.
But many aren't gone and they haven't found homes. What can we do about it?
As one of the board members for the Interfaith Coalition, I am helping raise money and in-kind donations to build two additional homes for homeless families in transition, families desperately needing shelter. Interfaith Coalition, now 30 years old, is a collection of over 40 congregations of all denominations in Whatcom County. We founded the Interfaith Community Health Center for medical, dental and mental health services for those who couldn't afford care. We also host severe weather shelters and hold warm coat drives. Although we are people of various faiths, we do not ask for or require those we serve to share our beliefs. Interfaith is a small, efficient, non-government organization focused intensely on concrete help for people in need.
Interfaith Coalition has a housing program for families. We have eight single-family homes in Bellingham and one in Ferndale. These are open to all kinds of families: those with two parents, single mothers, dads with daughters and boys older than 12. We are keeping families together as they work to rebuild their lives. We partner with agencies to provide case management to help turn things around ... and it's effective. More than 90 percent of the families in our nine homes find stable housing after three months of support. In 2012, 32 families stayed in Interfaith housing, from a period of three months to more than one year.
The "Our House" campaign is adding two units to our existing Ferndale house. In Ferndale, the number of children whose families are homeless has doubled in the past two years. Two additional homes will help create the stability, safety and shelter children and their parents need to thrive.
Families are couch surfing from friend to relative, always on the move. Victims of domestic violence are fleeing for safety, staying in a shelter. There are children whose teachers slip them a pair of boots because their shoes are falling apart. Just as those children begin to settle in, it's time to move once more. The transitional homes mean these kids won't be disrupted from their Ferndale friends and school.
Interfaith has raised more than $400,000 towards our goal of $500,000. More than 500 individuals and businesses have generously stepped up to help. I have found Whatcom County businesses to be sympathetic listeners who want to help. This is the kind of community we are. Interfaith Coalition isn't the only organization focused on homelessness. Committed community agencies such as the Whatcom Homeless Center are making a significant difference in reducing the numbers of people without homes.
I think a lot about how we treat the less fortunate in our society. I am blessed by the circumstances of where I was born and what I've been given. But I see around me many who haven't been as lucky. That's what motivates me and my fellow board members.
Some people think we will never eliminate homelessness. I choose to think differently. I think you do the right thing, you do what you can, you work as hard as you can for what you believe, and you will see change.
Join us. Share information about "Our House" with your friends. If you agree that we can and should help families with a place to call home, donate as generously as your heart allows. Find out more at interfaith-coalition.org.
WINDOW ON MY WORLD
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sue Cole has lived in Bellingham for more than 30 years and is a board member of the Interfaith Coalition.