Sunset cast a warm glow over the courtyard at Temple Beth Am, where, on a Sunday evening in August, guests mingled over wine and appetizers while four Seattle chefs prepared a gourmet cooking demo. After an impromptu bidding on one chef’s completed dish, the happy crowd filed into the building for a dinner of fresh Pike Place salmon, arugula, seasonal vegetables, and a chocolate raspberry torte from Bakery Nouveau for dessert.
This wasn’t any ordinary dinner: It was the temple’s third “chef’s gala” to raise money for its Homeless to Renter (H2R) program, which helps homeless families move into stable housing. With the help of the congregation and members of the community, as of July H2R has assisted more than 317 families over the past 13 years — 389 adults and 736 children, a total of 1,125 people. Twenty-five families have been saved from eviction.
It started back when Temple Beth Am hosted Tent City during the summers of 2003 and 2005. Sue Covey, an active member of the H2R committee, remembers talking with the people camping at the synagogue. They had jobs or a government pension, but they had no way to save enough to pay for a security deposit and first and last month’s rent, the steep fees generally required by landlords before move-in. “Some of us looked at each other and asked ourselves why we couldn’t figure out how to start a program that might be able to bridge this gap,” Covey says. H2R was born.
Families with at least one child and one parent or grandparent seeking housing are eligible to apply for H2R funding. And they must have a source of steady income, increasing the likelihood of success in the program. Temple Beth Am helps the recipients of the program in creative ways. There’s the Knitzvah Knitters, who create afghans for each family, and the chef’s gala, a high-end fundraising dinner with guest chefs. This year’s gala featured Traci Calderon of Seattle’s Succulent Catering, food writer Kim O’Donnel, Piatti executive chef Dylan Giordan, and pastry chef William Leaman of Bakery Nouveau. Close to $261,678 has been raised over the past 13 years.
Since its inception, H2R has received referrals from 32 community agencies, and many are referred through the DSHS 211 hotline. Jewish Family Service then screens applicants, and the needed amount of money is sent directly to the landlord. H2R recipients are typically in need of help because of an illness or a loss income. Roughly 10 percent of families become homeless because of domestic violence.
The current H2R chair, Fred Diamondstone, says the program doesn’t just benefit the families, but it also benefits the community and members of the congregation. “We share this through the religious school program,” he says. “We want to teach the children about our responsibility to help repair the world.” For Diamondstone, if there’s one word to describe the program, it’s “consistent.” “For 13 years we have consistently been providing help for families, about 28 per year,” he says.
Guests gathered around six poster boards at the gala, which described families’ ordeals: a mom with three kids who had struggled financially since a car accident left her seriously injured; another mother and her three children who left their previous home due to domestic violence; a husband and wife with six children who became homeless at the end of their lease because of rising rents. By the end of the night, a little over $16,000 had been raised.
When the wine glasses are empty, however, and the room silent — the elegant evening a memory — homelessness will still be here. Diamondstone reflects on the fact that more work needs to be done. “No one congregation or philanthropist or volunteer is going to end homelessness,” he says. “This isn’t a ‘let’s do this once and feel good about ourselves.’ This is a steady commitment.”