CCS receives $5 million Bezos grant to help homeless families in Pierce County

A $5 million grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund will help Catholic Community Services of Western Washington assist more homeless families in Pierce County. Lisa, who had terminal liver disease, was living with her family in their car until they found refuge in the CCS Family Housing Network shelter. She was able to spend her last couple of years in a stable home; her daughter is now living with relatives. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services A $5 million grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund will help Catholic Community Services of Western Washington assist more homeless families in Pierce County. Lisa, who had terminal liver disease, was living with her family in their car until they found refuge in the CCS Family Housing Network shelter. She was able to spend her last couple of years in a stable home; her daughter is now living with relatives. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services

TACOMA – Catholic Community Services of Western Washington has received a $5 million grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund to expand its outreach to homeless families in Pierce County.

“The rising numbers of children and families experiencing homelessness in our communities is unacceptable,” said Denny Hunthausen, agency director for Catholic Community Services Southwest. “This grant is an encouraging sign that together, we are committed to addressing this challenge. It will have a considerable impact on family homelessness in Pierce County.”

The four-year grant is expected to help more than 3,600 families in Pierce County, where family homelessness is projected to increase 14 percent per year.

“We actually think we can reverse that trend with this kind of an investment,” Hunthausen said.

The funds are targeted to help 2,800 families with problem-solving, which can include one-time assistance; divert 650 families from the shelter system and into immediate housing options; and assist 200 higher-need families with longer-term, intensive support, Hunthausen said.

The grant will help build on the agency’s years of work with homeless families, he said. “We really see it as way to enhance the work that we’ve been doing.”

CCS GrantThese kids and their family had their lives changed when Catholic Community Services served them in the Family Housing Network Shelter and later moved them into permanent CCS housing. A $5 million grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund will help CCS serve more homeless families in Pierce County. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services

For several years, CCS operated a small network with a day shelter and overnight accommodations at churches, which supported up to five homeless families at a time. But Pierce County currently has 264 homeless families, according to Gerrit Nyland, director of client information systems for the CCS office in Tacoma.

With funds from the grant, CCS will be able to operate a day center that is open to more homeless families, Hunthausen said, a vision similar to the New Bethlehem Day Center in Kirkland, operated by CCS and partner churches.

The Bezos grant will also help CCS respond more quickly to families experiencing homelessness. Through Pierce County’s coordinated entry system (the entry point for homeless services), homeless families are prioritized by vulnerability, Nyland said.

Often, families have to wait a week or more to be assessed “and even longer to get an intervention,” Hunthausen said. “We’ve created a system that allows them to get in line very efficiently,” he added.

The additional financial resources will also allow CCS to work with families on diversion — helping them explore possible living situations in their own networks, such as with relatives here or in other cities — so families never enter the shelter system, Hunthausen explained.

Research shows that “the sooner you intervene in a family’s experience of homelessness, the more likely you are to get them out of homelessness sooner,” he said. “The longer you stay in homelessness, the higher the wall gets, the tougher the barriers become to overcome.”

Diversion is always the family’s choice. It doesn’t work for every family, he said, but “it’s amazing the kind of successes you can see.”

CCS GrantThe Mats family received help from Catholic Community Services of Western Washington after immigrating to the U.S. to escape violence in Africa. CCS served the family in permanent supportive housing; last year, they moved into their own Habitat for Humanity house as homeowners. A $5 million grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund will help CCS assist more homeless families in Pierce County. Photo: Courtesy Catholic Community Services

Plans also call for establishing a mobile unit to connect with homeless families. “We consistently hear from the more rural and suburban areas of the county [that] there’s not enough resources and connection to what is going on out there,” Hunthausen said.

CCS is one of 24 agencies across the country selected to share $97.5 million in the inaugural round of grants from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund, established by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos. Other Catholic agencies receiving grant money are Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami.

The $5 million grant to CCS, coming during its centennial year, “is a great way to acknowledge the many years and decades the church and CCS have been supporting vulnerable families and children,” Hunthausen said. “That’s really a wonderful way that we’re continuing to be stewards of that mission and serving people of all faiths.”

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.