Interfaith Coalition's Our House to shelter three families

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 7, 2014 

Because you cared. Because you believed. Because everyone deserves a home.

Two years ago, Interfaith Coalition of Whatcom County took a huge leap of faith: we decided to turn our single family home in Ferndale into a triplex. The number of homeless children in north Whatcom County schools doubled in only two years. Keeping children in their own schools, even as their families lived in cars, tents or shelters, was critical.

We realized we could do more.

We needed to raise $500,000 to build the triplex. We are a small nonprofit organization supported by 44 member congregations, PeaceHealth, and individuals who believe in housing, healthcare and shelter for all. The goal was huge, but then, so was the need.

On July 13, from 1-3 p.m., we are hosting Our House Open House to share with the community what we have done together. The three new homes will shelter up to 10 families each year: comfortable, furnished, stable places to rebuild lives in crisis.

Our 11 Interfaith homes are special. Families stay together. The homes are centers of powerful support, consistent encouragement and fresh starts. This is where families begin to turn around their broken lives.

Weekly case management by the Opportunity Council and Lydia Place build accountability and address the complex issues leading to homelessness. Our program works: 90 percent of our families find secure housing after living in our houses. Home by home, we are breaking the challenging and often inter-generational cycle of poverty. Change begins here. We know it is possible. We see it happen.

With profound appreciation, we thank our big-hearted community for its generosity. Over 600 individuals, businesses, congregations and foundations donated to Our House with gifts of time, talent and money.

Early in our fundraising, the Chuckanut Health and Jansen foundations, Lummi Indian Business Council, Women Sharing Hope and Whatcom North Rotary set the bar high with their gifts. Member congregations pledged significant donations, including two leadership gifts from United Church of Ferndale and Christ Lutheran.

We hoped the construction community would join our efforts: their enthusiasm and support was overwhelmingly "yes." The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 191 donated all the electrical work, as well as materials. From CB Wholesale to Cascade Engineering Group, Fuller Building Design, Jerry Potter/A Flying Painter, Samuel's Furniture, Jostens Roofing, Louws Truss, and so many others, the building community helped stretch a bare-bones budget.

The City of Ferndale shepherded us through the permitting process and the unexpected issues that crop up. Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen and Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo served as honorary co-chairs of the Our House campaign. Their leadership was inspirational.

Volunteers from local businesses, such as Superfeet in Ferndale, pitched in with projects like landscaping. So many of us came together, sharing the story of homelessness here in Whatcom County and offering a path for a different ending: a story where a single dad with two little girls, or a mom and dad with teens begin again. We don't believe we have to accept homelessness as part of our community's fabric. We are not minimizing the difficulties of real change, and we understand for some people, it may take several tries to move forward. But we believe we should try. So do hundreds of our neighbors.

Simply, the families living in our homes are our community. They might be your coworkers. They could be relatives. They are people who need another chance.

Interfaith Coalition is in the business of second chances. People need healthcare. We started and continue to financially support the Interfaith Community Health Clinics. People need shelter. We host severe weather shelters for men and women so they have a warm place to sleep and hot food on the worst nights of the year.

All of us need a place to call home. Hope lives here at our Interfaith homes. Please celebrate with us on Sunday, July 13, as we prepare to welcome families to three new homes in Ferndale. Thanks to this generous and caring community, new beginnings will happen here.

EVENT

Our House Open House is from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 13. Parking is at Ferndale High School, 2083 Shuksan St., and attendants will direct you to the short walk to the home. Call 360-734-3983 for more information.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Andy Day, Mike DiSpigno and Rev. Bobbi Virta are Interfaith Coalition board members and co-chairs of the Our House campaign.

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