The Plan: practical tools we used to help a homeless family find permanent housing

Welcome to part four of the homeless series where I recount the story of how we had a homeless family of four (two adults and two children) live with us for eight months and worked with them to get them into permanent housing. In my last post, I told the whole story of having the homeless family live with us - including some of the tools we used to help this family get into permanent housing. Today I am going to narrow in on the tools we used to help this family. Feel free to comment at the bottom if you know of other means to help the homeless or extremely poor.

The Tools

1.) Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey is without a doubt the most important resource we used. Now, we didn’t use Financial Peace University program for the family (though we did require that they watch all nine classes in lieu of their monthly “rent.”) However, we did use Dave Ramsey’s “adjusted” program for them.

If you are in crisis mode (i.e., can’t pay all of your bills) Dave Ramsey always suggest that you focus on your four walls which are 1.) Food 2.) Housing (lights/water and rent) 3.) Transportation and 4.) Clothing I love this approach because it helps one focus on what is essential. You need food to eat, shelter, a way to get to your job, and clothing. If you are in crisis, you don’t need to get treats at McDonald's, you don’t need that thing at Target, and you don’t need good smelling bubble bath (in a pinch a bar of soap will serve as shampoo and body wash). What you do need is to make sure that your basic needs are being met.

In having this family live with us, I realized that people in crisis struggle with thinking clearly. On top of this, most people who are facing homelessness do not have the life skills needed to navigate a crisis. This is why Dave Ramsey’s plan is so effective - it clears the clutter and helps one prioritize what matters most.

2.) The local food bank

I understand that the quality of food banks can vary greatly city to city. However, I can personally affirm that Spokane’s food banks are incredible. This family was routinely given a considerable amount of food that included fresh produce, eggs, roasts, dairy, chicken breasts, deli meat, bread, and snacks. The family usually had double the amount of food that our family of four had.

3.) Second Harvest (local to Spokane and Tri-Cities)

Another incredible resource that we found was Second Harvest. According to their website, Second Harvest’s purpose is to "bring community resources together to feed people in need through empowerment, educations, and partnerships.” Though our food bank is incredible - I quickly realized that the family didn’t know how to healthfully cook for themselves (which is the kind of food the food bank gives). This family was used to eating out (fast food and pizza) for most of their meals - or they often ate quick meals like frozen dinners and mac and cheese (not surprisingly there were health issues associated with their diet).

Enter Second Harvest. Second Harvest has free cooking classes where participants can learn how to cook healthfully for themselves and their families. If you are in another city, I would visit your cities shelter to see if there are similar services offered in your city.

4.) Vanessa Behan (local to Spokane)

Vanessa Began offers free parenting classes. Though this is not an obvious connection (and I am certainly not suggesting that every person facing homelessness also needs parenting classes), when people are in crisis they often struggle to focus and adequately care for those in their care. It is helpful to have others come alongside to remind and teach how to continue to care for (or ask for help) your little ones in times of frustration and stress.

5.) Support

In Spokane, there is UGM and Catholic Charities that can help people navigate their way through homelessness along with a handful of crisis shelters. However, one important thing to realize is that people in crisis have a difficult time navigating tasks that seem rather simple to you and me. For example, before moving in with us, this family had visited Catholic Charities. When visiting they were given some paperwork to fill out and were asked to return that paperwork to get started on their journey to find permanent housing. However, they never completed the paperwork and never returned to Catholic Charities (that is until I dropped them off months later to look into their parenting classes).

When I first found this out, my immediate reaction was frustration. Honestly, I thought, “YOU ARE HOMELESS WITH KIDS - FILL OUT THE FREAKING PAPERWORK!!!!” However, the more I talked with this family I began to realize that it was not necessarily a lack of “want” - but a lack of “know-how.” They honestly did not know how to begin to fill out the paperwork. They were completely overwhelmed and could not even begin to see how to dig their way out - even when an organization was showing them the door. This is for two reasons 1.) they were in crisis mode 2.) they lacked the life skills and habits necessary to complete tasks that you or I may deem as relatively simple (as discussed in the previous post).

It wasn’t until this family had someone to sit WITH and someone who was willing to go through the paperwork WITH them - that they were able to complete the necessary paperwork to begin their journey to permanent housing. Thus, the final and most important resource is you. It is people. It is others who are willing to give up their most important resource (time) and sit with them. People facing homelessness need support (constant, exhausting, and undying support) to move their lives forward (truly a lesson in overcoming inertia!).

If you want to read more on how you can help the homeless I recommend two books:

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

You can read the other parts to this series by click on the link below.

Part 1: The Genesis: how we began hosting a homeless family in our home

Part 2: A Prepared Heart: why we began hosting a homeless family in our home

Part 3: The Whole Story: the journey of helping this family find permanent housing

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