Seeing the need, church joins Salem’s warming network with plans for expansion

Wade Harris inside the building used for warming at Seed of Faith. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Wade Harris has helped people get into transitional housing for years and has been a foster parent for dozens of kids. 

Seeing people struggle with to connect with services made him think about how he could serve people struggling to find housing better.  

Last fall, his church Seed of Faith opened a warming center for people experiencing homelessness at the back of a building that has 20 transitional housing units on Northeast Medical Center Drive. Now, they’re trying to expand by adding a cooling center and plan to continue warming next winter.  

“This had been a dream for me to open up something like this,” he said. 

Inside the building there are cots for up to 35 people, a breezeway he wants to use for cooling in the summer months and a day room.  

He said they’re not trying to be an ordinary shelter where people just spend the night. They want to identify people’s needs and help them toward self-sufficiency, like getting a job or on social security.  

Salem’s warming shelters typically open on colder nights around 6 p.m., with guests leaving the following morning. 

“What we figured out is that the people who come to warming, a lot of them can’t just go somewhere and hang out until 6 o clock,” he said.  

So, they opened a day center in the building to give people a space to hang out.  

“We’re flexible to the needs of the people,” he explained. The warming shelter was funded with state Out of the Cold funds.  

Harris said working with people in adult foster care has shown him that a lot of people with mental health issues don’t know how to access help. 

“You’d be surprised how many can’t get on services or are disconnected and can’t get back on,” he said. 

He said Seed of Faith helps them “crawl” through the process, referencing the adage “You have to crawl before you can walk.” 

The warming shelter is called CRAWL – Community, recovery and wellness living.  

Harris founded Seed of Faith 25 years ago. He describes it as a non-denominational church that does a lot of outreach.  

That is kind of a model to reach the unreachable and show them love,” he said. 

Harris, who is Black, said there’s a bit of a niche at the church. He said about 10 Black men come to the warming shelter because they’re more comfortable asking him for help.  

Harris said he went to Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, telling him he wanted to open the shelter because of the need he saw.  

He eventually wants to keep the building open year-round but needs to make some upgrades to the building before that takes place. 

Ashley Hamilton, program director of The ARCHES Project, said the organization began getting to know Seed of Faith during the pandemic, realizing they had been doing social service work in the community for decades. ARCHES is part of the Community Action Agency. 

“(Harris) definitely was such a fierce advocate in the unsheltered community,” she said. “Seed of Faith were already doing so much.” 

She saw a breadth of opportunity in the church and thought “Oh my goodness, how did we not know?” 

Hamilton said the agency’s goal is to work to build a continuum of service delivery and they wanted the church to be part of that.  

Uplifting people who are already doing the good work and what we recognize with Seed of Faith and we wanted to help them grow and be a part of that,” she said. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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