Article: In desperate times, Phoenix soars

By on November 30, 2010. Posted in .

Great article in the TNT on one of our partner organizations, Phoenix Housing Network in Tacoma. You guys are doing great work – keep it up!

In desperate times, Phoenix soars
Last updated: November 29th, 2010 07:48 AM (PST)

A young family with troubles looks for a place to stay on a winter’s night.

They’re out of resources. They have no friends who can help. They have nowhere to go.

Two millennia ago, a family in that predicament found shelter in a stable.

This holiday season, they might land in a parish hall or, if they are very fortunate, a Sunday school classroom at a church participating in Phoenix Housing Network.

A program of Catholic Community Services since 1996, Phoenix is a year-round family shelter that moves through 25 local churches and schools. Its volunteers are people of good faith who have spare space and the will to serve – especially a good dinner.

Each of the 23 churches, and Bellarmine Preparatory and Charles Wright schools, hosts five families on their campus for a week at a time. Every Saturday, volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints pick up the fold-away beds from one site and move them to the next. The hosts bring the families dinner every night, and one or two volunteer chaperones spend the night.

During the day, children go to school or day care and parents receive training and assistance to get their families stable again and into permanent housing.

Phoenix is Pierce County’s ingenious response to family homelessness.

Over the years, some churches have joined and some have left, and always there has been room for more.

“Sometimes, churches get small, or run out of volunteers, or their mission changes,” said Alan Brown, Phoenix Housing’s director. “We respect that.”

Churches also grow and look for new ways for their members to do good works.

“We can bring a mission to their doorstep,” Brown said. “That’s the service we can perform for them.”

Consider this an invitation to learn more about what being a Phoenix host site entails. Generally, Brown said, the host group has five families with about 15 people total, though there have been as many as 25 people.

That’s the traditional Phoenix program. In the past few years it has expanded services, and opportunities to get involved.

It maintains “Suited for Success,” a professional-quality men’s and women’s clothing bank with clothes for job interviews and jobs. Donations are always welcome. So are volunteers to sort and help choose suitable attire.

Based at the old St. Ann’s parish school, Phoenix can always use volunteers to help with office work and maintenance.

Its most dramatic expansion opened new opportunities for volunteers.

“We built Guadalupe Vista and added housing for 38 families,” Brown said of the Catholic Community Services project on the Hilltop. “We opened last November and filled it up right away. We had a waiting list of 200.”

Guadalupe Vista has two case managers on site who go beyond meeting a family’s emergency needs. They started a tutoring and mentoring program that meets two days a week, is outgrowing its original space and needs more tutors and mentors.

The Phoenix kids, said Brown, are eager to learn.

“We want to get kids in our program out into the community and involved in activities like playing on a sports team or taking an art or dance class,” Brown said. “We want to give them a sense of their own possibilities. We don’t want them to repeat the cycle of homelessness.”

They need sponsors.

One girl was interested in boxing lessons, and another student wanted French horn lessons. Kids enjoy fused glass classes at Manitou Community Center. All need fees for lessons and equipment.

Friday morning, Brown was worried about simple holiday gifts for 34 Phoenix families. Tops on their modest wish-lists were shoes, especially sneakers, for teens, books, and board games for families to enjoy together.

By Friday afternoon, Lisa Wagner from the Pierce County Prosecutor’s office had called. Her team of hard-boiled lawyers and staff will make Christmas for all the Phoenix families.

Instead of asking for more, Brown asked that generous souls take their modest gifts to other shelters, other programs. There are so many families with troubles these cold winter days that we can warm with our kindness.

Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677

How to reach them:

Phoenix Housing Network

7050 S. G St., 253-471-5340

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