West Linn resident Rose Money saw a need and acted on it.
For the past five years she has been the director of the Caring Closet at Tigard-Tualatin School District, a program that provides clothes, shoes, hygiene products and emergency bedding for students. Fifteen percent of TTSD's student population is clothed through the Caring Closet, and Money knew that was just the tip of the iceberg of need. She acknowledges that homelessness is on the rise in the Portland metro area.
In 2017, the homeless count in Clackamas County had reached 2,400, causing officials to declare a state of emergency on homelessness. In TTSD, Lake Oswego School District and Sherwood School District 236 homeless students have been identified this year; 26 of those students and their families call Lake Oswego home.
From her work with the Caring Closet, Money has been inspired to take action. Through her leadership, Family Promise of Tualatin Valley (FPTV) opened its doors this month to serve the needs of homeless students attending Lake Oswego, Sherwood and Tigard-Tualatin schools.
Family Promise is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response. Money says FPTV works from the premise that if students can stay with their family, keep attending their school and maintain their routine in their own community, they and their families will succeed. Though affiliated with the national program, FPTV receives its funding strictly from local donations, grants and volunteer support. During the past two and a half years Money and other volunteers have renovated a home at 20425 SW Stafford Road in Tualatin, and developed partnerships with churches and civic organizations to host families with safe sleeping space, meals and access to resources for their path to sustainable housing.
"Community collaboration for this much-needed program has been amazing," Money said. "Hundreds of volunteer hours were invested in renovating this day center, where families shower, do laundry, care for children and work with us on their path to housing."
Money says four families (up to 14 people) can be accommodated at the center. When families arrive at the center an individual family plan is developed with a caseworker to help families identify and connect with services specific to their needs, with housing being the first priority.
"Sometimes they are coming from ground zero," Money said. "They may have lost their driver's license or birth certificates. Kids can be enrolled without ID, but parents need that ID to apply for jobs and housing."
Under the McKinney-Vento Act, homeless children and youths are entitled to transportation to and from school, so each morning a student is driven to his/her specific school, then picked up at the end of the school day.
While children are in school, family members who are not at work or school are at the FPTV center working to increase personal and family stability and take care of their everyday needs. The center director and housing navigator help families research and apply for benefits and resources; identify housing opportunities; conduct job searches; clear up paperwork or financial issues; and move quickly to regain housing and independence.
The center is also the family's "home-like" place for showering, doing laundry, working on homework or computer research, and enjoying the community space.
At the end of the day the families are transported to the host facility for dinner and to spend the night. Hosts are just that: churches or organizations who host the FPTV families. The hospitality includes providing a warm dinner to be eaten with families and volunteers; safe, private and comfortable sleeping accommodations for the four families; breakfast and supplies for making lunches; and kind and supportive social interactions with the guests. Hosts and support hosts also provide volunteers to stay overnight with the guest families. Congregations or organizations host for a week at a time, four or five times a year. Portable beds are provided by the hosts; bedding is provided by FPTV.
The families spend weekend days at the center, studying, cooking, relaxing and playing outdoors, traveling back to the host facility to sleep.
The exact number of homeless students is hard to calculate, Money said, as McKinney Vento and the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) use different methodologies. "HUD doesn't count a person as homeless if they are doubling up in another's house, or if they are living in a motel," she said. Another factor that masks the true number of homeless is that McKinney Vento only takes into account homeless school-aged children; many families have newborn to preschool aged children. The count also doesn't take in to account adults.
"Families are the hidden homeless," Money said. She is optimistic that FPTV will make an impact on the homeless situation. "If we can address a small part of homelessness that gives me hope. We are excited to open our doors and start supporting out 236 homeless students and their families."
To donate or volunteer with FPTV visit family.promiseoftv.org or call 503-878-2492.
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