New Family Housing Project in NE Portland

Ascension Parish and the Madeline Catholic Church are teaming up on a local housing project through the national organization Family Promise. A new network of churches in East Portland will work together to provide shelter to families.

Hear Brenda’s interview with Michele Veenker, Executive Director of Family Promise East, and learn how you can help!

About Family Promise

Brenda: It may feel that overcoming the houseless crisis in Portland is overwhelming and finding the right place to start is difficult because the need is so multifaceted. Well, not only does Family Promise envision a nation in which every family has a home, a livelihood, and the chance to build a better future, but they believe it’s attainable! A great partnership has joined together Family Promise Metro East and Ascension Parish in southeast Portland to assist families in need. Joining me today to tell us more about this program is the executive Director of Family Promise East, Michele Veenker. Good morning, Michelle!

Michelle: Thank you for having me. I am happy to be here. And I just want to add that also The Madeleine is supporting Ascension in this work too. So we’ve got two there!

Brenda: Oh, I see. That’s excellent work. Many hands, we know, make light work. And boy, the more people that can get involved in programs like this, the blessings will be great. So I actually found out about this partnership through our community calendar. Family Promise is a national program, but this project is part of the Metro East Office. Tell us a little bit more about Family Promise and your mission to work towards family housing.

Michelle: So Family Promise started a little over 30 years ago with a woman in New Hampshire, I believe. (I’m relatively new here! I’ve only been around for about three months.) But on her way to work every day, she saw a houseless woman on the corner and stopped to give her a sandwich or some food. Then it dawned on her that that’s really not enough. She needed to do more. So she talked to her church and said – What can we do? And that was the beginning of Family Promise. From there it just expanded as other people in other churches and community organizations said  – we want to get involved. We want to be able to make a tangible difference in homelessness and in people’s lives.

So it’s moved from east to west, and now there are over 200 affiliates. Each affiliate is actually its own 501C3, so that means each of us have our own boards, our own volunteers, and our own fundraising. But we collaborate, coordinate, do some very similar things, and we all serve families.

Contributing Factors 

Brenda: Well, let’s talk about how families are affected. Of course, now we’re coming into these heat waves, and we know that it’s really going be a difficult time for families, especially if they don’t have permanent housing. Also considering the pandemic and rising inflation – is that putting families that were on the edge over into real crisis?

Michelle: It certainly is. In Oregon it’s been an even higher impact because our cost of rent and housing is so high, and there just is not enough housing. So for instance, somebody in the Portland area who is working minimum wage would need to work 65 hours a week in order to afford a studio apartment here in Oregon. So now you add families, maybe a mom or some kids, and a studio just isn’t going to handle it.

Because of COVID, many people lost their jobs were already just barely hanging on or maybe had those lower wage jobs for whatever reason. It’s been a terrible thing. There are over 800 families who are identified as being houseless in Multnomah County alone. We believe that every child deserves a safe and warm bed at night. So we’re working to change that.

Day Centers and Partnerships

Brenda: Well just being a child in school, with those responsibilities and making those friendships and connections, that’s already hard! And then you add to it the anxiety that they must feel not knowing where they are going to sleep that night. You’re right – that’s something that can be overcome and needs to be happening. Tell us a little bit about this partnership that’s happening at Ascension Parish and The Madeleine. How are parishes able to partner with you to really help with this crisis?

Michelle: So one of the tenants of Family Promise is that there is already people out there that want to help. And there are already buildings that are underutilized that we can utilize to help house or provide shelter for families that are houseless. So here in Family Promise Metro East, we’re partnering with churches of every denomination, other organizations, group of individuals, or even individuals who want to make that difference.

We have established a day center located in the Community of Christ Church on 43rd and Couch. That is where the families come during the day if they’re not working or otherwise engaged in activities that will help them obtain housing again. Here we have a house navigator and resource navigator who will help them identify those barriers that they have to getting housing. We have a beautiful area set aside just for them during the day. We’ve got a nursery, an area for kids, and an art room that’s just amazing!

When the kiddos are here, their schools (no matter what school district that they last attended) will come here to pick them up. It’s a huge benefit to have a stable place to be picked up. Because if kiddos are living in cars or couch-surfing, it’s hard for those schools to know where to pick them up, and so they would miss a lot more school.

In the evenings, that’s when we partner with our churches and parishes. Around 5:30 pm, families go to one of 13 churches, parishes, synagogues, or community organizations. There they receive dinner, and there also might be evening activities provided.

Every family gets its own sleeping space, and it can look different at different organizations. Sometimes each family will have their own room and other times it may be a bigger room with a divider. At Ascension, they actually use those big popup tents with sides on them. So they at least have a place where they can be alone and can sleep without being next to somebody they don’t know. Families will stay there usually a week for every quarter. This makes it so that no individual organization or church has too much of a burden. In the case of Ascension they’re using a space that’s used by their school, and the only time they have it available is in August. So they’re doing the whole month of August when they’re available.

Families will then get up early in the morning and get some kind of continental breakfast, although on the weekends, especially Saturday, the volunteers may decide to make something bigger, like a big pancake and egg breakfast. They’re also able to get the things to make a lunch if they want to, which is provided by the churches themselves. The kiddos, when they’re in school may qualify for free or reduced lunches.

And then we rinse, wash, and repeat. They come back to the day center and get the help that they need. They start looking for housing, jobs, education, cleaning up credit, working with landlords – whatever it is that they need in order to become permanently housed.

Move to Permanent Housing

Brenda: It does feel like four weeks it’s so temporary! Is that enough time to move some families from a shelter like this into a more permanent housing?

Michelle: That’s why we have 13 organizations, so that when they’re done there at Ascension, then we have another one ready to go. In this case, it’s Saint David of Wales and they’ll go there for a week. If they still need housing, they can go for as long as they need.

I think the last statistics I saw were about 11 weeks to get a family into permanent housing. That was pre COVID and on a national scale. It may be a little longer for our families in Oregon, but that’s okay. As long as they’re working with us to make that move and get whatever they need done to become in housing, they can stay as long as they need.

How to Help

Brenda: You can find more information about the August shelter at Ascension Parish website under their social concerns menu. Michelle, where can people go to find out more information about Family Promise, and how they can maybe volunteer and become partners with you?

Michelle: It’s really easy. They can go onto our website at, or they can call me. And we can look at what ways to help, whether that is an individual that wants to help out at our day center or a group that wants to help. Right now we really need mini bus drivers! There’s just a myriad of ways that people can get involved. They can actually make a tangible difference! Instead of just looking out their window as they’re driving and thinking about how awful houselessness is, they can get involved and make a difference!

Brenda: Oh, I think that that is exactly what we need to do! If we look out the window and have a comment to say, well that means we need to do something about it.

Michelle: One more way that people can help is through donations! We are operating under the kindness of people and a few small foundation grants. Every dollar, every penny will go to making sure that we are housing as many people as we can, provided that shelter and that love. We are showing Christ’s love in action when you volunteer with Family Promise.

Brenda: It is a call that all of us are asked to be a part of! Michelle, thank you so much for all the work that you do, and thank you for your time today.

Michelle: Thank you so much for this opportunity! And thank you so much for all the people out there doing something and taking action. We really appreciate it, and so do our families.


Learn more about Family Promise Metro East and how you can help!


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