History: National Roots to Local Affiliate
THE BEGINNING of our National Organizaiton
Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting when she passed a homeless woman on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich.The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich but asked for something more — a chance to be heard. Karen stayed with Millie and listened. What she heard made her understand that homelessness brought profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection from society. Soon after, Karen and her two sons began delivering lunches to homeless people on the streets of New York.
1986: THE FIRST NETWORK
When Karen learned that homelessness was affecting families right in her own community in New Jersey, she knew she had to do something. But this was much more than giving sandwiches. She brought together people in need and people who wanted to help. Existing community resources could provide shelter, meals, and housing. Volunteers could use their skills, knowledge, and compassion to help their homeless neighbors find employment, reconnect with society, and restore their dignity.
She approached the religious community. Congregations offered hospitality space within their buildings. The YMCA provided showers and a family Day Center. A car dealer discounted a van. The first interfaith hospitality network opened on October 27, 1986.
1988: THE NETWORK GOES NATIONAL
As word spread, more New Jersey congregations formed a second network. Other congregations were inspired to develop similar programs. In 1988, we formed the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to bring the program nationwide. In addition to shelter, meals, housing, and job-seeking support, our Affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homelessness prevention. Nationally, we added programs like Just Neighbors and Family Mentoring.
1992: POINT OF LIGHT
Family Promise was awarded one of 21 Points of Light, out of a field of more than 4,500 nominees, by President and Barbara Bush, signifying Family Promise as one of the top volunteer agencies in the country. The award recognizes how one neighbor can help another, and calls upon the nation to take action in service to our fellow citizens.
2015: FAMILY PROMISE OF SKAGIT VALLEY IS BORN
The mission of Family Promise of Skagit Valley began as "Helping Skagit Valley communities end homelessness for families with children". This mission came about in 2012 when a man's concern for the 1,000+ children that were at that time homeless in the community that he lived in. Pastor Laurin Vance had been part of a Family Promise Network in another state and decided that the Family Promise model would be an effective and cost-effective way to mobilize churches and the local community to address the homelessness issue. Family Promise of Skagit Valley was awarded it's 501(c)(3) on June 13, 2014, and opened its doors to homeless families on May 10, 2015. We started with two staff; a full-time Director and a part-time Case Manager. In the fall of 2015, we hired a part-time Van Driver bringing the total staff to 3 personnel.
Our organization became an Affiliate of Family Promise in 2015. We secured a Day Center location, renting space in one of our host churches. We renovated the space to include individual family rooms, a staff office, and a break room. Part of the renovations included installing two showers and a laundry room. As the first year went along, it became apparent that families needed help in securing funding for when they found a place to rent. Families were having to pay multiple application fees, first and last month rent, deposit and hook up fees for the housing that they were able to secure while in our program. In response, we created Operation Lift. This helped to pay for a family's deposit, if they had been successful in the program, obtained a regular source of income, taken some Financial Literacy classes, and saved necessary funds for application fees, first, and last month's rent. Next, we partnered with Help Us Move In, a nonprofit for matching grants of $10,000 a year for two years in addition to the Operation Lift program.
Near the end of 2015, it became apparent that Skagit County was in a housing crisis. Our county had a 1% vacancy rate for low-income housing. According to the Skagit County Health Department, Skagit County residents needed nearly 4,000 units of affordable housing. Low-income families had an 8-year wait for a Section 8 housing voucher through the Housing Authority of Skagit, or a 1.5-year wait for the Sedro-Woolley Housing Authority. For homeless shelters, this presents a real challenge in helping families find affordable housing. Affordable housing as defined by HUD is less than 30% of a family's income. In Skagit County in 2013, 17.8% of the population was living below the poverty line compared to a statewide average of 14.1%. This crisis captured our attention and we became advocates for the families we serve. We looked into transitional housing, tiny homes, and other home-building opportunities.
In the Spring of 2017, in response to the lack of housing, we opened a 3-unit Transitional House. This helped serve women and children that needed extra time due to their situation and allowed them time to continue to establish themselves before leaving the program.
Today, we have a 4-unit 2nd Stage Transitional House and 4 single-family 3rd Stage Transitional Homes. We continue to strive to create affordable housing opportunities for families in need.