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Our Story

A simple act of compassion set in motion a national movement to end family homelessness.
Karen Olsen handing out sandwiches to Millie.

Karen Olson (FP founder) with Millie in 1986.


 Karen Olson was rushing to a business meeting when she passed a homeless woman on the street. On impulse, Karen bought her a sandwich.The woman, Millie, accepted the sandwich but asked for something more — a chance to be heard. Karen stayed with Millie and listened. What she heard made her understand that homelessness brought profound feelings of diminished self-worth and disconnection from society. Soon after, Karen and her two sons began delivering lunches to homeless people on the streets of New York.

As word spread, more New Jersey congregations formed a second network. Other congregations were inspired to develop similar programs. In 1988, we formed the National Interfaith Hospitality Network to bring the program nationwide. In addition to shelter, meals, housing, and job-seeking support, our Affiliates began developing programs for transitional housing, childcare, and homelessness prevention. Nationally, we added programs like Just Neighbors and Family Mentoring.


Family Promise of Spokane became Family Promise’s 49th affiliate in 1998. Linda Barnes, a local church attender, felt compelled to spearhead care for local families experiencing homelessness after Karen Olson visited Spokane and spoke about the issue. Barnes recruited 11 churches which served as the very first Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) in the area. 

Church congregation setting up beds for homeless families to stay in their space.

Church members prepare sleeping spaces for homeless families in their church building. 

Westminster church volunteers preparing dinner for homeless families.

Two volunteers prepare dinner for homeless families staying in their church.


In its first three years, IHN served an average of 4 families each month. Continuing to grow, the network now included 31 total churches (12 host churches and 19 support congregations). With 50 volunteers each week year round, the network needed a lot of dedicated church volunteers! 

 Although the model of sheltering homeless families in local congregations was extremely cost effective, financials were difficult during this time. Even throughout the struggle, the  executive staff opted to cut back their hours in order to free up funding for those working directly with families. The goal was to "just keep it going for the kiddos," and even though money got tight, we were committed to never closing our doors to families in need. One board member recalls that she even hosted personal fundraisers in her home just to make ends meet!


Following the national name change from Interfaith Hospitality Network to Family Promise, we became Family Promise of Spokane. The new name sparked a momentum to expand our services to better help whole families. 

Additionally, despite an ever-increasing need for our services, we had never been able to purchase our own facility. We had rented various properties around town, but in 2014, we purchased our Day Center/Administrative Offices located at 904 E. Hartson. This stable "home base" became the foundation for future expansion.

Steve Allen receiving a check from donors.

Steve Allen (left) accepts check from Bruce Baldwin (right) and Sean O'Regan (center).


Steve Allen and Joe Ader at a ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor David Condon at the Open Doors Shelter.

Open Doors ribbon cutting ceremony (2016) led by Steve Allen (center) and supported by Joe Ader (left) and former Spokane Mayor David Condon (right).

As the need in our city continued to rise, the City of Spokane reached out to ask Family Promise of Spokane to open the first ever 24/7 emergency walk-in shelter for the whole family. Three months later, Open Doors was born. We provided so more than just a place to sleep; we provided meals, showers, kitchen-access, case management and a safe place for kids. On the very first day, over 15 family members had sought services. 


From 2017 to 2018, our capacity to serve homeless families and those needing help tripled. We began our Neighbors Prevention program and our Village aftercare program. Serving just over 1,000 people within the time frame, Family Promise continued to grow, hiring staff and looking to purchase a building that could house Open Doors families and serve as a home-base for future expansion.

In 2019, we purchased the old Cassano's Italian Grocery Store, spending 6 months renovating it to best fit our needs. In September 2019, 20 families found emergency services at the Family Promise Center.   

Steve Allen and Joe Ader outside the new Family Promise Emergency Shelter.

Steve Allen (left) and Joe Ader (right) pose outside of future Family Promise Center.


Two children playing in the emergency shelter.

Two guests play as they imagine life after homelessness.

With the issue of family homelessness remaining at crisis levels, Family Promise of Spokane has created a strategic plan to change the future for 1,000 family members each year by 2024.

The next three years will be marked by growth and engagement as we increase local partnerships and seek connections that integrate families into neighborhoods. With your help, Family Promise of Spokane truly believes we can end family homelessness—right here in our own community.

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