Not 'Sleeping' on homeless issue
Family Promise of Tualatin Valley held its first annual "Drive In, Sleep Out" fundraiser last weekend in the Tigard High School parking lot.
The organization formed in late 2016, with the purpose of providing temporary housing for homeless families in the Tigard-Tualatin, Sherwood and Lake Oswego School Districts. It will do so by teaming up with at least 13 "hosts" — mainly churches or other private organizations — who can house families for a week at a time, four times a year.
At the "Drive In, Sleep Out" fundraiser, about 100 people — each with their own sponsors — spent Saturday night in their cars, in the Tigard High parking lot. The purpose was to gain an understanding of what it's like for homeless families to sleep in their vehicles, and to raise money for the organization.
"What people learn from this is that it's not easy," said Rose Money, leadership team chair for Family Promise Tualatin Valley. "You sleep in your car, and you're expected to get up in the morning and go to class. You're expected to get good grades and hold it together. As an adult, you're expected to go to work and do a good job. The reality is, sleeping in your car is very difficult."
Among the three school districts, there are about 300 known homeless students. The organization will partner directly with school district counselors, who will refer homeless families to Family Promise.
The leadership team aimed to raise about $35,000 through the fundraiser. Money said it will use that money to hire an executive director, so that it can meet its goal of opening this October.
"Once we hire that person, it'll steamroll in terms of development," she said.
Family Promise is a national organization with 206 affiliates, including one in Beaverton. Money said that the national group provides a helpful blueprint for local affiliates to follow.
Tigard Foursquare Church has signed on to be a "support host" for Family Promise, meaning it will provide volunteer work and other help for host sites. Senior Pastor Sherilyn Wilson couldn't spend the night in her car because she was battling pneumonia, but she had a group of families and friends in attendance who did plan to stay overnight.
"It's an unnoticed issue, an unnoticed problem, and the more of us that get in on it and bring it attention, the more that can happen," Wilson said when asked why she got involved with Family Promise. "If you don't have a place and you don't have a table for homework and a shower, how do you expect our kiddos to strive and succeed?"
Karen Emerson, a leadership team and Tigard-Tualatin School Board member, was among those spending the night in their cars. She said it was her first time sleeping in her vehicle.
"It's not cold, and we have port-a-potties and security, so it's not at all the same thing," she said.
Emerson said she was drawn to Family Promise for two reasons: it works directly with school districts, and it allows families to stay together, rather than being separated by gender, as many homeless shelters require.
"A single mom with a son or a single dad with a daughter, the family can stay together, and that is so important," she said.
The group of folks sleeping in their cars included a lot of children. Money said she hoped the experience would cause those kids to be more empathetic toward classmates who might be homeless.
"I love that so many families are here, and these kids are going to be sleeping in cars tonight, because it's an experience for each generation to learn and grow."