The Whole Story
“We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.” - Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (61-62).
This is the blog post that I have been putting off writing for a while. Honestly, it is humbling and challenging to open your home to strangers. Moreover, I am finding that it is almost equally challenging to recount a life-changing experience. However, I do believe it is a story worth recounting and sharing, so without further ado...
I have already shared how we began hosting a homeless family and then a little over two months ago I shared the “why” behind our story. Today, I am going to share what the steps we took to help this family find permanent housing as well as what our life looked like while they lived with us.
In case you want to skip all of the copy and jump to the basics, the timeline from this family moving into our home to finding permanent housing is below.
July 29, 2017 - The family moves in
August 2017 - Jon and I begin to understand the family’s financial and lifestyle struggles better and formulate a plan to get them into permanent housing
September 2017 - The family starts paying off their eviction
November 2017 - Eviction is paid off
December 2017 - Focus on transitioning from us doing most things for the family to the family becoming more independent
January 2018 - Begin the process of getting into permanent housing
February 2018 - The family begins applying for apartments
March 2018 - Continuing to research and apply to apartments
April 2018 - The family moves into permanent housing
When the family first moved in with us, we knew that they would be with us longer than a night, but honestly never imagined that it would take eight months to help them find permanent housing. However, after a couple of weeks it became very apparent that we would have to be in it for the long haul if this family was going to find (and stay in) permanent housing.
The reason we initially thought that the family wouldn't live with us for very long is that we were under the impression that the reason they were homeless was that they had recently moved to Spokane without first securing an apartment in their price range. We believed that all they needed was to find an apartment in their price range and they were good to go (after all the husband did have a full-time job and the wife made a little money babysitting). However, we soon realized that the reason they were homeless had little do with their recent move (we later learned that this wasn't the first time they were homeless) and everything to do with the fact that they had an open eviction, a poor credit score, and some bad habits.
My husband and I determined that we would allow them to live rent free (including utilities) so that they could put as much money as possible toward savings and improving their credit score, while also being able to focus on creating new habits. My husband and I laid out a plan for them loosely based on Dave Ramsey’s plan - but augmented to address their financial struggles and habits. We also gave them a deadline of July 1, 2018, which would give them eleven months to get back on their feet.
One thing we focused on was helping them create new habits. For the protection of this family's' dignity, I will not go into too much detail here. I will say that this family struggled to do many things that are second nature to many of us - simply because it was not their habit to do so. So much of our focus was to help them create basic, healthy habits that they could continue once they moved out of our home. We modeled this after, frankly, the same way we go about raising our children. In the beginning, Jon and I tried to do as much as possible for them. We paid for and cooked dinners for us all, cleaned, did all the yard work, drove them to their work and the grocery store, and replaced things they broke without requesting payment from them. From them, we asked that they get out of bed, do their laundry, keep up basic hygiene, and work on getting their finances in order (we also had weekly and then later bi-weekly one to two hour meetings to make sure they were making progress on their goals). They were also required to go to work and school unless they were ill. As the months went on, we gave them more and more responsibility, so that by the end we were functioning (more or less) as two separate families living under the same roof.
For the financial steps, our big focus was getting their eviction paid off and then helping them learn how to stay on top of their monthly bills. Initially, I thought that we would be able to teach them how to pay off all of their debt. However, Jon and I quickly realized that would be a long-term goal. So for the eight months they lived with us, we simply focused on making sure they were staying current on their necessary bills - or as Dave Ramsey calls it - that they were taking care of their four walls. The four walls are food, shelter, clothing, and transportation.
Finding Permanent Housing
Helping this family find permanent housing was a struggle all in its own. Frankly, this system is complicated to navigate. There are several avenues for low-income families to go down (i.e., public and Section 8 housing), but it is difficult to figure out which apartments are low-income and how to apply for the various apartments. There is also generally a waiting list. On top of that, this family struggled with basic life-skills (as many who are homeless do), so navigating complicated government programs were extremely challenging. (If you do live in Spokane, I think that SNAP link: https://www.snapwa.org/services-we-provide/i-need-help-with-housing/i-need-rental-housing/ does the best job of laying out the housing options in our area.)
All that said, we began helping them look for permanent housing (with the help of one of this family's siblings) in January of 2018. They were able to move into an apartment April 3, 2018, so it was about a three-month process from researching appropriate avenues for housing to applying to various apartment complexes to finally getting on the wait list and moving into their apartment.
I want to close this post by getting pretty real with you. When I write out the process of getting this family into permanent housing, it seems rather neat and tidy. It wasn’t. It was hard. People are messy. People take time.
Time. We live in a culture that values “me time.” And that is fine. However, how do we react when “our” time is taken away? Having this family live with us challenged me and what I view as “mine.” The truth is that as Christians, we are not our own. The question then remains, can we trust Christ with our time and our mental stability when we are stretched so thin we become transparent? It is so counterculture (Christ always is) to deny yourself the things to which you think you are entitled. For Jon and I, we believe that we were entitled to the things we worked for, to our money, and to our time. However, Christ says to deny yourself and go after him. He also says that we are just stewards of everything we have - that nothing is our own. The truth is that I believe I serve a God that humbled himself and became man and died for us undeserving, with little thanks from those for whom he died. So it makes sense that as I am transformed into his likeness, I learn to let go of what is comfortable and become uncomfortable to help others. However, unlike Christ, I do all this kicking and screaming and complaining. Christ serves us willingly, and it humbles me to my core.
During the time that this family lived with us, I was at my best when I lived raw, broken, and utterly dependent on the love of Christ. It was beautiful. When I was at my worst, I focused on “my” stuff and “my” time and said things to Jon that would absolutely humiliate me if others heard my words. I have never been so dependent on the love and grace of Christ, and though I am glad that the family found permanent housing, I miss the intimacy I felt with Christ while they were with us.
Henri Nouwen’s words ring loudly in my ears, “We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.” I am in just as much need of grace and counsel and wisdom as the family who lived with us. In the end, we became two families, under one roof, living in 1400 square feet, and all in desperate need of God's grace.
You can read other parts of this series here. Part four will be posted sometime in late October.
Part 3: The Whole Story: the journey of helping this family find permanent housing