When U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) visited the Gonzaga Family Haven in Spokane, WA last November, she remarked on what she felt distinguished the new housing project: “You’re integrating the families here into the community in a much more aggressive way than other places like this. I really don’t know any other example like this: it’s a very holistic approach.”
Breann Beggs, Spokane City Council president, echoed the importance of the Haven’s focus not only on housing, but supporting residents. “The first solution for people who don’t have housing is housing,” Beggs said. “The secret sauce for this project is not just housing, it’s services — services curated to individuals.”
Gonzaga Family Haven, the seventeenth supportive housing project of Catholic Charities Eastern Washington (CCEW), is home to 70+ formerly houseless families, including 150 children in Spokane’s Logan neighborhood, where Gonzaga University is located. This first-of-its-kind community-based collaboration involving Gonzaga, Gonzaga Preparatory High School and St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish was forged to help transition houseless families to “forever homes.”
“The challenges faced by our community members without homes are significant and affect a large number of children and adults,” said Gonzaga’s President, Thayne M. McCulloh. “We have made the commitment to be an integral part of helping houseless families in our community. Catholic Charities Eastern Washington is making such a difference in our city and region, every day. We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with them and our community partners to open doors for meaningful and lasting change.”
After the formal opening in March 2022, Gonzaga received $576,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to enhance wrap-around programming and services for residents. Senator Cantwell was vital in securing the funding, and her Haven visit included a tour and meeting with organizations partnering to offer a wide array of services to help residents successfully navigate their way into the future. And in true Jesuit fashion of “people for and with others,” Gonzaga Prep students and parents constructed beds, Gonzaga student-athletes helped families move in, trustees and regents assembled welcome packets, and eighth graders from St. Aloysius elementary delivered them to residents.
Since its official opening in March 2022, programs and services have deepened and expanded, ensuring a coordinated set of support services to help stabilize at-risk families:
- Long-term support through housing, case management, mental health services, legal aid, and financial counseling;
- After-school and summer educational-enrichment activities for youth focused on long-term academic success and educational attainment;
- Programs that contribute to whole-family health, and seek to reduce health disparities through health care, healthy meals, support for parents, and wellness programs;
- Community events and programming aimed at strengthening social connections and a sense of belonging—key social determinants of health.
Many of these programs show up as extraordinary learning and engagement opportunities for Gonzaga students. Graduate students in marriage and family counseling are developing activities to promote healthy family relationships. An all-neighborhood health clinic organized by faculty, staff and students of Gonzaga’s School of Nursing & Human Physiology offered free sports physicals for children, along with COVID-19 vaccines, flu shots, and more. After-school programs include mentorships, homework help, and fun sporting activities that guide youth to focus on academic success.
Several programs have been developed hand-in-hand with families, informed by focus groups and community conversations, including legal clinics, financial management clinics, and a health clinic. “It’s critical that our programs are informed by residents – they know the type of supports that will be beneficial for their families,” said Bailley Wootton, director of strategic partnerships for Gonzaga’s Center for Community Engagement. “Our families understand the value of cultivating connection and belonging at the Haven.”
Women’s programs that advance education and employment pathways through essential skills workforce development are emerging, with creative storytelling and leadership workshops helping resident mothers discover new avenues for growth and enjoyment.
Community events build a sense of belonging, with a monthly community meal for residents, tickets to campus sporting events, and a Christmas stocking for every family filled with gift certificates and Gonzaga memorabilia.
“In trauma-informed care, our residents need to experience love, trust and safety in order to move from surviving to thriving,” said Peggy Haun-McEwen, director of community at the Haven. “The most important thing our student volunteers bring is hope. Families are now encouraged to dream and hope for a future they could not imagine before moving to Gonzaga Family Haven. We are already seeing the power of education and engagement making a difference in the lives of our families, and we’re so excited to see what the future holds.”
“Gonzaga Family Haven is changing the lives of families who have experienced the trauma of homelessness and family separation,” said John Sklut, senior advisor to President McCulloh. “Through this innovative partnership, we are providing families with a safe place to live and access to services that help them make lasting improvements to their wellness and stability. Our goal is to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty for these neighbors.”
It is rewarding to everyone involved and needed now more than ever. Homelessness is a persistent problem. Locally, there are reportedly 191 households with children awaiting connection to a resource like Gonzaga Family Haven. Its partners expect the Haven and its programs to be a model for Spokane and in other cities across the country.
“Gonzaga Family Haven is now giving forever homes to families who had previously been living in their cars, living in shelters and, in some cases, living in tents or abandoned motorhomes,” said Rob McCann (‘95 M.A, ‘06 Ph.D.), president/CEO of CCEW. “This marks an amazing moment of contemplation in action for Catholic Charities and for Gonzaga University. It’s been a blessing to be a part of this incredible concept that now connects our Catholic Charities agency, our town, and our Catholic university’s campus in such a unique way. In my 23 years at Catholic Charities, I don’t think I’ve seen a project that has impacted the community in the special way that this one has. What a gift! What a blessing!”
By Mary Joan Hahn, Senior Director of Community Relations, Gonzaga University