Renton’s homeless find a “Center of Hope”
In association with the Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches (REACH),
Renton First UMC began its round of hosting homeless families, this winter.
By Jesse N. Love | Photos by Dave Gillespie
“We’ve been here for a week. It’s good here, it’s safe. My kids are happy, I’m happier,” shares Mashala H.
She is a mother of three, whose children’s ages range from 2 to 9 years old. Before settling in her bedroom, which is formally a church classroom at First United Methodist Church, she had been living in her car with her children. Mashala had met with The Rev. Dr. Linda Smith, director of the REACH’s Center of Hope, and was offered a place to stay at the Church within the same day*.
The Church has set up its facilities as a Night Shelter for homeless women with children beginning in November 2013. The Church provided an overnight shelter for Mashala’s family as well as another family with five children. This is a part of a REACH’s Center of Hope program.
Center of Hope is a duel-located program with a Day Center currently based at Renton City Hall and a Night Shelter hosted by rotating church locations in the Renton Area. The Day Center provides youth/tutoring services, two meals a day, and housing/employment resources, just to name a few. The Night Shelter at RFUMC provides a place to stay, equipped with a common room for meals, television, volunteer support, and more importantly, safety and peace of mind. Each week, the Church has to fill 42 volunteer openings in order to manage the Shelter at night and in the mornings. It is short-term placement as guests wait for permanent housing; there are several people on a waiting list.
The Center of Hope opened its doors in 2013. According to the Rev. Smith, guests have stayed at the night shelters for at least two days and at most three months. “REACH serves by working together, collaboratively with other churches to meet human needs” she shares. “Meeting people where they are, working with the marginalized in the community, empowering people to be self-sufficient, and to show the love of Christ through the people we serve in various ways,” are some of her core values that help support REACH and its programs.
Dave Gillespie serves as one of Renton First’s REACH representatives and has been on the planning committee for the Center of Hope. For him, the experience of hosting these families at his Church has been ‘enlightening’ and ‘moving’: “These folks are pretty much average folks who are down on their luck – having lost a couple of jobs and having nothing. So often they don’t know where to get help – we have a place for them to find it.”
“When you are dealing with sheltering homeless families, each family brings different issues and complications,” shares Gillespie. “Helping them to get on the road to a better life is a challenge. In the Methodist church we are focusing on making disciples. How do you make disciples while in this mission field? People know of Jesus, but when you feed and embrace them with the love of Jesus, people will take Jesus in their heart. We feel through outreach, we are touching people.”
Renton First has been very active in establishing relationships with its two families – but, the Church doesn’t proselytize, Gillespie notes. Members of the Church saw this as an opportunity for older members to be involved by providing homemade treats for their guests. One member was so enthusiastic that despite a broken hip, she still wanted to make sure the families were provided for in baked goods.
Although the economy is gradually exiting out of its rut from the early 2000s, people are still struggling to find work – leading to homelessness. In a job climate that requires constantly updating of skills that are in demand, people who are struggling to keep the pace or are simply unqualified find themselves in the margins of society, in need of assistance.
Mashala H. – who once worked as a machinist for Seattle-based Darigold – explains, “When I lost my job I couldn’t afford my house any more. A lot of families are becoming homeless. There are not a lot of shelters out here for full families – families that are really trying to do something with their lives.”
“I am really honored to be a part of a congregation that loves God and cares for the community in tangible ways as expressions of God with us,” shares the Rev. Cecilia Clemons of First UMC. “It is because of God’s love for us that we are filled to overflowing with love for others.”
Although day services are provided by the Center of Hope, housing for the Night Shelter through the local church network is very much needed.
Clemons shares, “It is my hope that more and more people will join in and help support the work of REACH and her partners, making homelessness a thing of the past for all who desire to have a place to live. We can do it—one family at a time, or many families at a time. This is an invitation to become part of this movement of care, and change.”
Gillespie emphasizes, “Working with an ecumenical community is important. In REACH, we don’t talk about dogma or differences in our faith. The common ground is serving those in need in the name of Jesus Christ.” A vision that both Gillespie and Smith have is to build a large facility that can accommodate both the Day and Night services for the homeless population of the Renton Area.
At the Center of Hope, people in need along with people willing to help have the opportunity to connect and see the best of different faiths working together for a common purpose.
*Mashala has now relocated into a home with her husband and children after this interview. Bryn Mar, Fairwood, Skyway, Kennydale United Methodist churches are also serving within REACH.
Visit www.rfumc.org for information on Renton First UMC. Dave Gillespie is a member of Renton First UMC and serves as a representative for REACH. The Rev. Dr. Linda Smith serves as the director of the Center of Hope and also serves as a pastor for the Church of Mary Magdelene and Skycenter for Spiritual Living.
The Rev. Cecilia Clemons is the pastor at Renton First UMC.
Jesse N. Love serves as print & publications manager for the PNWUMC.
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