If you want to see lives restored, faith renewed and the cycle of homelessness broken, visit the Open House Ministries, a family shelter in downtown Vancouver. OHM is a faith-based organization that helps homeless families heal their lives. They teach families how to have a new, more positive healthy relationship with each other, with their community and with God, based on personal accountability and integrity.
“We are a faith-based Ministry working hard to change lives, one family at a time,” said Executive Director Renee Stevens.
Tina Collins, a case manager at OHM said: “When residents come to us, they’re broken, lost and terrified. They’ve been living on the streets with nothing, and then they walk into a clean and beautiful room that has so many things. They come here with zero hope, feeling worthless, like this is it and all it’s ever going to be. And then we see a sparkle come back. And the self-worth and confidence grows and grows. We get a front-row seat to this.”
Stevens said that when someone first arrives at OHM, they are in a stabilization stage. They are assessed for drug and alcohol and mental health through CSNW-Sea Mar. They begin working with a case manager who designs a CMAP (case management action plan). The initial program is about 90 days. The classes include: Financial Peace, Giving Back, Clark College GED classes, Men’s group, Women’s group, Parenting, Grief and Loss, Conflict Resolution and several Biblical classes. Once the program is complete, residents begin job readiness at our bike shop or thrift store. They learn soft skills as well as on-the-job experience. They are released to work and begin searching for housing.
OHM started in 1985, when a small group of individuals that met at Esther Short Park for bible study became aware of the homeless population, of people living in their cars with their children. OHM was incorporated in 1986 and opened a large leased 10-room boarding house, to provide shelter for up to 25 people.
Today the shelter has 36 rooms, including two handicap accessible rooms. Completed in 1996, the 28,000-square-foot shelter has three floors and a basement. Right now, there are 62 residents there. The rooms are mostly studio apartments, with full bathrooms and a kitchenette – the rooms don’t have ovens, just two-burner stoves. There is an industrial kitchen on the third floor for the residents.
Currently, there are three parts to OHM. Besides the shelter itself, the complex includes the Annex which encompasses Wheels Deals bike shop and the Secondhand Solutions Thrift store. Wheels Deals offers new and used bikes – Schwinns, Sorrento, Antelope and so on – as well as accessories, helmets, and repairs and tune-ups. All proceeds benefit OHM. They’re closed Sunday and Monday, but open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Wednesdays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Chaplain Mark Roskam is the manager.
The thrift store, Secondhand Solutions Thrift Store, has two floors. The first floor is general merchandise, the second floor, clothes and the basement, storage.
The third part of OHM and the most recent addition is the new three-story administrative building, the Todd and Maxine McClaskey Family Resource Center, built in 2018, with new office space on the second floor. And with administrative staff moving from office space in the shelter and into the new building, five rooms are now being converted to shelter rooms and will soon be available.
“We currently have three of the rooms converted,” Stevens said. “One will be completed by the end of September 2019, and the last one by December 2019.”
The pantry for residents is in the basement of the administrative building. And if something they need isn’t in the pantry, then OHM writes residents a voucher that they can use at the thrift store. There are also organizations and people who are called “Adopters” who sign up to provide things for a family during their stay in one of the rooms, for whatever family is next on the wait list, and for however long that family is there, a maximum of one year.
For the first week, while new residents get settled in, OHM assists them with food and other items, and they can choose what they’d like from the food pantry. They never have to pay for it.
“While they’re here, we work on any barriers they have,” Collins said. “Maybe there are financial barriers, so we work on those; maybe they owe fines or owe money to an apartment complex, so that in the next 12 months, they’ve removed those barriers and are then focusing on long-term sustainable housing.”
OHM partners with an apartment building nearby that offers discounted rates. It’s an opportunity to work on self, and establish good, current rent history. Then as the resident progresses in income, they can move to another place.
“For Sunday, we encourage them to seek a church outside,” Collins said. “It’s about building a network of people outside of OHM, so once they leave here, they will have that support network and still be working on their relationship with God. God has to be number one. They get an opportunity to rest and learn about the Lord, and learn new ways of doing things.”
OHM is holding two fundraisers in the next couple of months: Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness and Give More 24. From Sept. 4 through Oct. 11, OHM Chaplain Mark Roskam and his brother Mike will be cycling historic Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., a trip of 2,300 miles, in hopes of raising $66,000 for OHM operations – for Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness. Their wives are accompanying them in a support vehicle while they pedal 70 to 100 miles per day, six days per week. They’re hoping for by-the-mile prayers and pledges, although lump sums are welcome too. Funds raised are not spent on trip expenses, as this is an entirely self-funded trip. To pledge or donate, call Leslie Cook at 360-737-0300 or visit the website at https://www.sheltered.org/upcoming-events/.
Give More 24! is a 24-hour online fundraiser organized by the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington (CFSWW); it’s an event that applauds the work of local nonprofits. Any nonprofits that serve Southwest Washington are welcome. This is their sixth year and more than 150 local nonprofits are participating. OHM is one of those nonprofits. The Give More 24! event happens Sept. 19, beginning at 12:01 a.m. and ending at 12:59 p.m. OHM benefits both through donations but also because they are then eligible for matching funds plus 10 additional prizes specifically for nonprofits, based on the public’s giving. Give More 24! is also seeking matching dollar donations. Donations are tax deductible. Visit OHM’s profile on GiveMore24.org
“It is a life-changing program,” said Stevens, of Open House Ministries. “Our approach is holistic. I see miracles happen here every day. I watch hope being restored and families that become reunited after years of separation.”