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Neighbors open shelter doors for local families

by: SUBMITTED - Reiko, at the head of the table, her husband, Tom, right, in hat, their children and some guests eat dinner together at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, when they were in the shelter there.When bad things happen, they can happen quickly, as Tom and Reiko Rogers found out.

In 2010, Reiko, the main breadwinner in her household of six, lost her job when her boss closed the shop where she had worked as an auto mechanic for five years.

And then there was a knock on the door of the house where the family had lived for five years, and they were told they had 30 days to get out.

“It happened to us so fast; our rent was always paid, but the landlord was $15,000 behind” on the mortgage payments, Tom said.

Luckily, the family found out about the Annie Ross House, a shelter for homeless families in Clackamas County, from Reiko’s sister. Then they discovered the adjunct to the Annie Ross House, the SON network of churches in Gladstone, Milwaukie, Oregon City and West Linn.

SON stands for Sheltering Our Neighbors, and there are six churches in the network that host homeless families in a two-week rotation.

At first Reiko was reluctant to come to a shelter, because she pictured the concept of shelters from what she had seen on TV, with bedrolls in a basement.

But what the Rogers family found instead was love, warmth, safety and acceptance from a group of volunteers who want to help families in need in the county.

“When you are that broken, that far down, when you are homeless and have lost everything, that feeling of love changes your heart,” Reiko said. “And the volunteers are here because they choose to be — there is no paycheck.

“My kids had a warm place to stay. I could take a deep breath and feel that love, when before we were so alone and scared. For the first time I said, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ ” she said.

This experience “literally changed our lives. You can feel the love coming from these people,” Tom added.

And although the shelters are in area churches, there is no pressure on the families to join the church, although they are always invited to the services, he said.

“This experience has brought our family closer together; when we stayed in the church, we had time for one-on-one with the kids,” Tom said. “It made us a stronger unit; I am a better dad and a better husband.”

The four children, now 9, 11, 13 and 22, profited from the experience as well, Reiko said, adding, “Even now, a couple of years later, they appreciate the little things more. I was really honest with them all the time, and the kids were forced to grow up a little bit.”

Reiko took photos of the family’s time in the shelter, because “that is a part of my life I didn’t want to forget; I didn’t want to lose those memories.”

After spending three months at the Annie Ross House in Milwaukie and 16 weeks in SON shelters, the Rogers family has a permanent home now in Clackamas County. Reiko has gone back to work at CarQuest in Oregon City; her husband, an insulin-dependent diabetic, is disabled but now gets Social Security disability checks.

The love has come full circle, they say, since they have joined the congregation at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Gladstone, and are youth mentors there with junior and senior high school students every Sunday evening.

The whole family also prepares and serves meals with the SON program, including the children.

Tanya and Holly

Another couple, Tanya and Holly, who happen to be friends with Tom and Reiko, encountered similar problems just before Thanksgiving of this year, when Holly, an insulin-dependent diabetic, lost her job for health reasons, and the couple lost their home.

The two were living in their car in McMinnville, and when Tom and Reiko saw their friends struggling, they told them about the shelter.

“I was afraid to bring my two kids into what I thought of as a shelter, but the kids weren’t progressing staying at their dad’s, so I figured that if they were with me I could keep an eye on everything. Reiko talked me into it,” Holly said.

Tom and Reiko also told the couple about another county program, Rent Well, a six-week series of classes offered by Clackamas County Department of Human Services that can help pay deposits on rental homes and offers a renter’s guarantee to potential landlords. The classes also help with credit reports, budgeting and overcoming barriers to renting.

Tanya, Holly and the two children, 8 and 9, first moved into Emanuel Presbyterian in West Linn, then transferred to Oregon City United Methodist Church. They ended up spending Christmas at Atkinson Memorial Church in Oregon City.

“Our family was in one room together, and everyone was very welcoming and loving; that made it like home. And the children did awesome,” Holly said.

“As a gay couple, we have been welcomed; we have not been judged, or looked at or stared at. At SON, we did not have that feeling of being judged at all,” Tanya said.

“Every church was so loving, and we had the best Christmas we’ve ever had in our lives; the congregation wrapped up presents for us, and even took us shopping,” she added.

The SON experience taught the children “to have love in their hearts, because the kids now see the kindness in people’s hearts. It made our bond stronger,” Holly said.

Just last week Tanya, Holly and the two children moved into their permanent home in Clackamas County, and here again the congregations from several churches helped them with household goods and necessities. Both women are back at work and have joined the St. Stephen congregation, where they plan to volunteer with the SON program as soon as they can.

A hot meal

Sheltering Our Neighbors began with one man, Pastor John Reutter-Harrah, at Prince of Life Lutheran Church in Oregon City.

“This happened after we had severe weather in 2009 and some people came into his church looking for shelter and food. He had a vision to start something, and he brought together other pastors and asked how we can address this problem,” said Tessa Dailey, who has been the network coordinator for the SON program since 2010.

Soon, six churches formed the nucleus of SON: Atkinson Memorial, Emmanuel Presbyterian, Milwaukie Presbyterian, Oregon City United Methodist, Prince of Life Lutheran and St. Stephen Lutheran. Beavercreek United Church of Christ and Bryn Seion Welsh Church in Beavercreek are support churches; members of their congregations supply volunteers, provide financial support or bring meals to the program, Dailey said.

In addition, Zion Lutheran in Oregon City has agreed to be a day shelter, if needed.

Each host church provides shelter for one to two families for two weeks, and then the families may move to the next site. All meals are provided, and members make certain that the people bringing in a hot evening meal stay and eat the meal with the family.

“It’s a relational thing; sharing a meal is very personal and it provides an opportunity to talk to one another,” Dailey said.

Welcome statement

There are several ways that families can find out about the SON program. Typically, someone will call 2-1-1 or people will contact Clackamas County Housing Rights and Resource Center, the Annie Ross House or Northwest Housing Alternatives.

“Jeanie Kuzmin-Walling, from HRRC, will call and tell me she has a family that needs shelter. She will describe the situation, and we’ll see what kinds of services they need,” Dailey said.

The usual intake process involves a five-minute phone call and then an in-person conversation. It can take one day or so, sometimes less, to get the family into a shelter, Dailey said.

Once the family comes into the shelter, they are made aware that there are some rules to follow.

“Everyone has to be out by 8:30 a.m., and they may come back at 5:30 p.m., at St. Stephen, but each church is different, and times are flexible,” she added.

The SON shelters operate only from October through April, as volunteers have learned that families don’t seem to need as much help in the summer months, or they camp outside then.

At St. Stephen, where she is based, Dailey stays into the evening to make sure dinner arrives, and families have a phone number to call in case of emergency. Every night a volunteer comes in at 9 p.m. and stays at the site until 7 a.m., just to make sure everything is going well.

Sometimes families are reluctant to come into a church for shelter, because they fear that church members will proselytize, but Dailey is quick to point out that does not happen, although family members are always invited to share worship services.

Her church has a welcoming statement making sure everyone feels comfortable, and more than 50 congregation members are active volunteers.

“Our church members see there is a need; they know there is a severe lack of shelter space for families in the county and they have totally come on board, because they can see the benefits. It can happen to anyone and it is about families who need help,” she said.

The need for help is greater in the county these days, she added, because of the loss of jobs, underemployment, mental health issues, addictions and bad decision making.

The shelter system can always use more volunteers to help serve meals and donations of hygiene products, non-perishable food and clothing are always welcomed.

As for why she is so involved with this program, Dailey said her own family moved around a lot when she was a child, and now as an adult, she recognizes that being homeless can happen to anyone. It is “only one missed paycheck away or serious illness or loss of a job.”

Fast Facts

Contact Tessa Daily, youth minister and SON program network coordinator, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or call 503-927-6452.

Call the office at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Gladstone, 503-656-8194.

Call 2-1-1 to contact Clackamas County Social Services.

Call the Annie Ross House and Northwest Housing Alternatives, 503-654-1007.

Contact the Housing Rights and Resource Center in Clackamas County, 503-650-5750.



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