TACOMA, Wash. -- The number of homeless families looking for help at the Tacoma Rescue Mission has increased 20% each of the last four years, according to the charity s CEO David Curry.

The Mission, which opened a family-only shelter two years ago, turns away three of every four families that call because it s full.

We ve seen a tremendous growth in the families, said Curry, citing the economy, abuse and other conditions. And I believe it s because of a confluence of all these types of things.

Around the holidays, the shelter tries to help the families and their children get a taste of Christmas. Gifts and meals are donated by the public.

We want to help them maintain or retain some innocence, Curry explained. So they ll all get a present. We ll have Christmas dinner.

One of the newer families at the shelter is the Long s, who lost their five-bedroom Tacoma home last year.

Before I moved here, I slept in my car, explained divorced mother of three Lisa Long. I slept in my driveway within eyesight of my house.

Long has lived at the shelter with her two youngest children since early November. Her new home is a small room with a bunk bed for the kids and one for herself. It s her first Christmas with no tree.

But, Long said, donated gifts are helping keep spirits up.

They opened (the gifts) up, their faces lit up, Long explained with her kids beside her.

The helicopters and the balloons...happy!

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