On a cold winter's night in late January 2011, hundreds of volunteers fanned out across Oregon to count the state's homeless population. Among other findings, they reported that on that one night organizations serving the homeless had provided shelter to 7,241 men, women and children.
That's a lot of people. More, for example, than the number who live in Florence or Hood River or Brookings. So many, in fact, that the 26-story Flamingo Hotel on The Strip in Las Vegas - the 10th largest hotel in the United States - would need 50 more rooms to accommodate all these men, women and children. Even at double occupancy.
Providing shelter and services to 7,241 men, women and children isn't exactly cheap. This year alone HUD's Continuum of Care program is providing some $20.2 million - or more than $55,000 a day - to support the good and tireless work of more than 100 projects across the state to help homeless individuals and families get back on their feet. And that doesn't include all of the financial support those projects might be receiving from local governments, foundations, congregations and, of course, private citizens like you.
You're right. That's a lot of money. So much that some folks may wonder whether it's money well-spent.
They might find the answer at Covenant of Hope. It is, reported Steve Beaven in The Oregonian, a "fledgling program" that "matches homeless families with congregations and other faith-based organizations."
Families like Joseph Moreno's. He, his wife and three kids arrived in Portland last November, wrote Beaven, "with five backpacks, one duffel bag, one suitcase and no prospects." Their first night in town was spent at a "crowded winter shelter," sharing a room with four other families. When they couldn't stay there, "they rode busses or MAX trains" just to have a roof over their heads.
But their luck may have turned, thanks to the Covenant of Hope and, especially, the First Congregational Church of Christ. Its members were asked on December 22nd if they wanted to sponsor the Moreno family. The answer came just three days later on Christmas with news they'd raised the $2,400 it needed. And now, the family has moved into a "spotless Gresham apartment, tastefully decorated in earth colors, with a new paint job and new appliances."
"Homeless families often feel shunned by the community," Human Solutions Executive Director Jean DeMaster told Beaven. Covenant of Hope congregations provide "a welcome, which just makes people feel hopeful."
It's no small commitment. Congregations are expected to pay for three months' rent and utilities, help equip the apartment and provide an instant community for families. Once the three months is up, the non-profit Human Solutions provides a Family Advocate case manager to assist the families overcome the factors that made or have kept them as well HUD Continuum of Care funds to cover another three to six months of rent. By then, hopefully, the family will begin standing on its own.
So far, the Covenant for Hope has moved in three families with "several more" scheduled. 11 congregations and faith-based organizations already have agreed to raise the funds and make the commitment to sponsor families.
It's quite remarkable, not just because it's grown so fast, but also because the congregations that sign-on are taking a bit of a leap of faith. No credit checks. No automatic exclusion from the program because criminal backgrounds. First-come, first-served, no questions asked.
"We would not want to exclude someone from this program because of their criminal record or other issues," Covenant of Hope co-founder Paul Schroeder told Beaven. "We want to offer people the second chance they need."
So is the $2,400 in HUD funds Human Solutions commits to each Covenant of Hope family tax dollars well spent? If you see the world as "sink or swim," probably not. But if you believe that America has room for second chances, it may be one of the best investments HUD can make.