View from the Pew
A coalition of Windward churches open their doors to homeless families
Three homeless families will move on tomorrow -- to another secure sleeping place with comfortable beds, another hot supper and the hospitality of new friends.
They have the good fortune of being the first guests of Family Promise of Hawaii, a nonprofit program that expects to harness the energy of more than 700 volunteers in 20 faith congregations this year. And that's just phase one.
The families, six children and six adults, are the first of an anticipated 30 homeless families that will be taken care of on the premises of Windward churches during the year.
The project works because a network of churches shares the commitment, each taking the role of host for a week. There are a limited number of volunteers available in any given church, not to mention reluctance to become a permanent landlord. Gearing up for a week every three months is doable.
The Family Promise program was developed on the mainland. Hawaii is the 38th state to adopt the model of help for the homeless. The Windward churches are the 118th network of shared commitment, said C. Kent Coarsey, who directed a Family Promise program in Colorado before moving back to Hawaii two years ago. The president of the local board, he spearheaded the past year of organizing, which is continuing with the goal of establishing a second network of churches in Honolulu.
"We want them to feel it's their home," said Marian Heidel, coordinator at Christ Church Uniting Disciples and Presbyterians, where the project was launched March 5.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jessica Brookins, left, her mother, Diane, and Charlene Hosenfeld set dining tables for homeless families "overnighting" at the Christ Church Uniting Disciples & Presbyterians in Kailua.
Hospitality and help are not new concepts for church folks, but all volunteers underwent training rooted in wisdom gained in the nationwide project.
"One thing we talked about was to be sensitive to people," said Heidel. "There's a lot of things you may think are friendly that could be offensive."
The guests are not to be interrogated or smothered with attention.
Heidel unlocked former Sunday School classrooms, now bedrooms, before the guest families returned for the night. Meanwhile, Diane Bookins and her daughter Jessica organized dinner in the church kitchen. They provided hot dogs and baked beans on a Friday night, with salad donated by Gay Tsukamaki and frozen dessert from Charlene Hosenfeld. The night before, Mark and Connie Mitchell produced their chicken stir-fry special.
"This is such a wonderful concept, a demonstration of people coming together for a common cause," said Tsukamaki. "Organizations of faith frequently identify themselves by differences from others. This is special because they come together."
Tsukamaki's firm, Consulting Advisory Services, was hired to help Family Promise get organized and find funding. But after the contract ended, she and business partner Carol Shibata continued as volunteers.
"We bought into this project; this is our community, too," Tsukamaki said.
For one family it was the first experience of indoor living after six months in a tent at a Windward park, sleeping in the car on rainy nights.
"I am thankful for the meals they serve us, that my kids have a square meal not out of a can," said the mother of three, who asked that her name not be used. She has a job in the medical industry, her husband works in construction and their children are in school. Their oldest child, a high school student, was taken in by a relative after her grades were dropping.
"It's hard to find a place comfortable to do homework," said the mother. "Here the kids can sit at the table and do their homework. It gives us a clean space for us to fill out applications for housing, look at bill payment options ... so we don't fail while we go through this homeless thing."
She said she and her husband are "working to create savings and work on our credit. I think we are on a middle-level plateau."
"I thought we might have to explain ourselves each time, but it's no hassle," she said.
It was week two, and they had moved to the second host premises at First Baptist Windward Church. Moving on to the next shelter "isn't a problem, and we meet more compassionate people. Our clothes and our hygiene things -- that's all we have to move. When we were living out, our clothes out there got hammered, moldy, because we didn't have storage space."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Volunteers haul in and set up 16 beds in the Christ Church Uniting office building in Kailua as part of the Family Promise program. Jeff Lansdown, left, helps move new beds into a second-floor room. The church is one of several Windward churches that are setting up temporary housing for homeless families.
The second family moved into Christ Church Uniting with a 4-day-old baby and a 2-year-old. They are already "graduating" from the program. The father just started in a new job, and they have found housing, said Kent Anderson, a former Peace Corps volunteer who is executive director of the new program. During the past week, another couple with children ages 1 and 3 came into the fold. The father has a full-time job.
During the day, the guests who are not at work or school are transported to the Family Promise center on the grounds of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, 93 N. Kainalu Drive in Kailua. There is play space for children. For the adults, there is help from a caseworker to seek better employment, continue education and find housing.
One thing the guests will not hear from the staff or the church volunteers is a missionary pitch. "We never proselytize to our guests," said Coarsey. "We can't get funding that way. And people may be angry at God ... so we don't say you've got to pray or come to Bible study. If someone has questions, we will talk about it."
He said he knew of two churches who were interested early on and thought it would be a Christian program. They pulled out when they found out they could not proselytize and that the goal is to be an interfaith network, he said.
A Buddhist organization and a Jewish congregation have indicated an interest in joining the project, Coarsey said.
"All of our faiths are looking to do for people who can't do for themselves," he said. "We are looking for people to commit to their faith, walk their faith."
Anderson said, "The first way to get involved is to talk to their congregations and encourage them to sign up." They are also seeking volunteers to work at the Kailua center.
"We always accept donations in cash, and we also need items like diapers and office supplies," Anderson said. They do not accept clothing.
People interested in donating or hearing more about Family Promise may call Anderson at 261-7478.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Curtains provide some privacy in a makeshift dormitory intended for homeless families at the Christ Church Uniting Disciples & Presbyterians in Kailua. Here, Family Promise Hawaii coordinator Marian Heidel ensures comfort for families "overnighting" there.
Homeless families will be housed at 11 churches under the Family Promise program. Other faith organizations are partners, providing donations and volunteers to support the project:
Calvary Episcopal Church
Christ Church Uniting
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
Faith Baptist Church
First Baptist Windward Church
Kahuluu United Methodist Church
Kailua Community Church
Kailua Methodist Church
Kailua Seventh-day Adventist Church
Kaneohe Marine Base Hawaii
Kaneohe Seventh-day Adventist Church
Keolumana United Methodist Church
Parker United Methodist Church
St. Anthony Church
St. Christopher's Episcopal Church
St. George Church
St. John's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
St. John Lutheran Church
St. John Vianney Church
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center
Windward Baptist Church-Kaneohe
Church of the Crossroads
First Christian Church
St. Luke's Episcopal Church