In The Beginning
This ministry sprang from meetings called by Our Savior's Lutheran Church beginning in 1986 when representatives of several churches in Lake Oswego began discussing the need to "do something" about the homeless. Two years of research suggested that the greatest need was for transitional housing options. At the time, no transitional housing was available for families following emergency shelter placement in Clackamas County. One church north of the lake offered its facility as a site for the shelter. With donated labor and furnishings, volunteers from 7 congregations converted a small office into a bedroom with a shower for guest families. A living room was created from an adjacent Church School classroom. Families shared the use of the church kitchen and rest rooms with the congregation. In partnership with the Annie Ross House and Clackamas County Social Services, the Ministry opened the shelter's door to the first guest family in September l988.
In May of 2000, the loose coalition of churches was reorganized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit with a Board of Directors made up of representatives from each of the supporting churches. The newly formed non-profit coalition applied for and was awarded grants by Clackamas County (a Community Development Block Grant) and The Lake Oswego Junior Women's Club to construct a second shelter. Cash and in-kind donations from member churches and community partners amounted to $32,788, well in excess of the 20% matching funds required by the Block Grant. The fully-furnished 1 bedroom apartment met the ADA requirements and allowed accommodation of a family member living with a disability.
Churches currently involved in the ministry include: Christ Church Episcopal Parish, Church of Christ, Scientist, Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, The Lake Oswego United Church of Christ, The Lake Oswego United Methodist Church, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, and River West Church. In the first 15 years of the ministry, 37 families were served, including 55 adults and 60 children. Of these families, 18 had women as single head of household, 3 had men as single head of household, and 16 families had 2 adult caregivers. Ethnically those families were 92% European American, 5% African American, and 3% Hispanic American. Seventy percent of the families served maintained permanent housing for at least a 6 month follow-up period, a high percentage compared to most transitional shelters. Unlike many transitional shelters where a caseworker has time to stop by once a week, our families receive daily contact from volunteers. Many of our guest families have stated that it is the love, kindness, and generosity of ordinary people volunteering to lend a helping hand, believing that they can get back on their own feet that has made the difference in their lives.
The "Lake Oswego Model" of church-supported transitional shelter ministry has been presented to churches throughout the metro area and beyond. Some form of the model has been replicated in several locations in Oregon and one in Idaho. A handbook was created to facilitate volunteer engagement and training. Based on experiences meeting the needs and challenges of guest families, ministry coordinators have revised the handbook as needed since it was first published in September l988. Orientation classes for prospective volunteers from churches and the community at large have been offered oa an ongoing basis. Materials and information about our ministry have been mailed to those requesting it throughout Oregon and to other states. All services offered by the ministry have been offered at no cost. The shelter ministry employs no staff and is operated entirely by volunteers recruited from sponsoring churches, along with a handful of at-large specialists. Funding for the day-to-day operation of the ministry comes solely from the coalition churches and unsolicited individual donations.
The Lake Oswego Transitional Shelter Ministry functions in partnership with the Clackamas County Social Services Department. Our transitional sites provide housing for families after they have lived in a short-term emergency shelter. Staff in the County Social Services Dept. screen families for placement in our apartments. Housing is typically provided for 120 days (sometimes longer, on a case-by-case basis) in order to stabilize the family as they save money for a deposit and first / last months' rent for permanent housing.
Professional case-management (e.g., long-range planning for permanent housing, employment, health insurance, and other social services) is provided by a Self-Sufficiency Social Worker from the County Social Services Dept. Volunteers from ministry churches provide direct support services to the guest families during revolving 2-week periods. The time spent by individual volunteers supporting guest families varies widely on a daily basis (e.g., from 1 volunteer transporting the family to a grocery store for 45 minutes after work one evening to 12 volunteers collectively supporting a family's move to a new apartment for a 5-6 hour time period on a Saturday.)
Each of the member churches has a representative who coordinates the volunteers from their respective churches. The services provided include: daily contact; transportation support; life-mentoring in shopping, life-skills, and cooking; tutoring children; facilitating child care; providing enrichment experiences for children; and most importantly, listening. Volunteers are trained and monitored to work with guest families to encourage their self-sufficiency goals and support their transition toward independence. Many guest families have reported a regained sense of worth / belonging following their stay and success in moving forward with their lives. Some former guest families have returned to offer support or possessions to current shelter residents.
Coordinators from the ministry meet on a monthly basis to discuss shelter policy, planning, and the particular needs of guest families. Communication among the churches, coordinators, volunteers, and the case-manager occurs continuously to ensure that the needs of the guest family are met.
Currently there is a 6-month to 5-year waiting list for affordable housing in Clackamas County. Additional transitional shelters are sorely needed. Our ministry provides a proven model for committed, trained volunteers supporting the needs of homeless families when partnered with professionals from social service agencies. Many families from emergency shelters need extra help to stabilize their lives and transition successfully into permanent housing. Our ministry has enjoyed broad-based community support, but the need for the increased community awareness of families in crisis is great. The benefit offered by this ministry is truly reciprocal. Both those served and those who serve in this ministry find themselves understanding better our mutual need to connect with and care for others in community.