Homeless

For Some Churches, Food Trucks Are a Vehicle for Serving the Poor

Arlington Heights UMC / RNS

Arlington Heights United Methodist Church’s Five and Two Food Truck served breakfast tacos to Komen Race for the Cure participants in April 2015, co-sponsored by Kroger. Photo via Arlington Heights UMC / RNS

Faith-based food trucks are building momentum across the country. In St. Paul, Minn., Lutheran pastor Margaret Kelly’s church is actually a food truck, providing free food and prayers to homeless and impoverished members of the community.

Back in Texas, the Chow Train in San Antonio has been making national headlines for fearlessly serving homeless residents despite a $2,000 fine in April for serving food from the back of a private vehicle.

'They Saved My Life'

FOR YEARS, Dee Curry thrived in her job as a community-based outreach specialist, coordinating and connecting local residents to Washington, D.C.’s health services. “I never intended to become homeless,” Curry said. “My job meant everything to me. But, being empowered as a transgender woman, I encountered a lot of adversity and eventually suffered burnout.”

That burnout led to substance abuse, then incarceration, then homelessness. By the time she arrived at a hospital six years ago, Curry was suicidal. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she had been flitting between different places for temporary shelter. “People were not good to me. I was mistrustful of everyone,” she said.

The hospital psychiatrist finally persuaded Curry to contact Pathways to Housing DC, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that implements the Housing First model among those with severe mental illness. Housing First offers the most vulnerable, chronically homeless people permanent housing and the supportive services to address mental and physical health, substance abuse, employment, education, and family reunification so that people can get back on their feet. Other models to alleviate homelessness may require program participants to be sober or eligible for employment in order to qualify for housing. The Housing First model reverses this logic.

“We provide housing first because we made a commitment to listen to the people we serve. We asked them what they wanted and needed. They almost always said ‘I need the housing, first, before I can work on other issues,” said Pathways to Housing DC executive director Christy Respress.

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How to Truly Help the Homeless

Photo via Mount Vernon Place UMC / RNS

Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., seen during the spring. Photo via Mount Vernon Place UMC / RNS

St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco is getting bad press this week over a sprinkler system it installed to keep homeless people from sleeping on church grounds.

People are outraged that a church would treat the poor so callously. But St. Mary’s isn’t alone. Many houses of worship all over the country face the question of how to keep safe, welcoming grounds while being compassionate to homeless neighbors sleeping on porches and in doorways.

Here’s what we tried at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

A couple of months ago, we started a dialogue around how to move people off the porches of the church and assist them in moving on. Over the years, the protected and secluded porches had become sleeping quarters for a dozen or so folks, and it was now out of hand. People were using the grounds as bathroom facilities; others were leaving their belongings in plastic-covered 4-foot high mounds.

The conversation, held in a church committee meeting in January, was contentious.

Vatican to Offer Haircuts, Shaves as well as Showers to Rome’s Homeless

Photo via Josephine McKenna / RNS

A homeless man sits in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican. Photo via Josephine McKenna / RNS

The Vatican will offer homeless people in Rome not only showers but also haircuts and shaves when new facilities open next month, the head of Pope Francis’ charity office said.

The Vatican announced last year that it would provide shower facilities in St Peter’s Square for homeless people.

Bishop Konrad Krajewski told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire on Jan. 29 that it would also offer haircuts and shaves when the services start on Feb. 16 in an area under the colonnade of the square.

Krajewski, whose official title is the pope’s almoner, said barbers and hairdressers would volunteer their services on Mondays, the day their shops are traditionally closed in Italy.

Retreats Aim to Help LGBT Youth Recapture Some of Their Broken Spirituality

Photo by Alex Fradkin / RNS.

Youth participate in exercises during the Urban Retreat at the Reciprocity Foundation. Photo by Alex Fradkin / RNS.

Jordyn Garrett left home so he could become Olivia. Lerato “Lee” Mokobe left South Africa to pursue her dreams, but can’t return because of the dangers her home life and culture posed to her identity. Sarah Silva left her home because of sexual abuse and unhealthy family relationships.

They’re not even old enough to rent a car, and yet they’re living homeless in New York City. But these and other young adults found themselves a family in the Reciprocity Foundation.

The Reciprocity Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the city’s homeless youth realize their full potential by developing their passions and reconnecting with their spiritual side. Many of the youth they work with are people of color or part of the LGBT community, and many come from religious backgrounds.

“Many (of these youth) feel negatively towards religion since it has contributed to their isolation from their family and/or homelessness,” said Taz Tagore, a Reciprocity co-founder.

Weekly Wrap 11.14.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Interstellar Isn't About Religion (and Also It Is Totally About Religion)
"While the film has a marked admiration for science—it is science, in the end, that helps humanity to rescue itself—it has just as much respect for wonder and awe and what you might call, in the broadest and perhaps even the narrowest sense, faith."

2. Drones Now Patrol Half of U.S.-Mexico Border
In an era of increased security but finite resources, the U.S. government has dispatched Predator Bs to sweep remote areas and detect people (or cows, it seems) entering the country.

3. Why John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight Is Better Than The Daily Show and Colbert 
Where Stewart and Colbert simply reaffirm shared values, "Oliver’s brand of journalism (which is, of course, couched as cheerful Sunday-night entertainment) often has an actual, demonstrable impact on public consciousness.”

4. The Most Heartbreaking Place in America Is Called ‘Friendship Park’
ThinkProgress’ Jack Jenkins and Esther Boyd traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to chronicle the struggles of immigrant life. In this first piece, they tell the story of immigrants whose only glimpse of family is through an 18-foot steel fence between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

Pope Francis to Build Showers for Homeless in St. Peter’s Square

A homeless man sits close to where the showers are going to be built in St. Peter’s square. Photo via Josephine McKenna/RNS

In his latest bid to ease the suffering of the poor — and upend the expectations of the papacy — Pope Francis plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

Three showers are to be built into refurbished public restrooms provided for Catholic pilgrims along the marble columns leading into the historic basilica, which was completed in 1626.

The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Nov. 13 that the project was a joint initiative of the pope and Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who distributes charity on the pope’s behalf. Construction is due to begin Nov. 17.

It’s an unconventional move, even for a pope who constantly preaches that more should be done to help the poor. It also could rankle traditionalists as the homeless line up to wash beneath the extravagant apostolic apartments that Francis shunned after his election.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Adrian Sztrajt, a 27-year-old homeless man from the Polish city of Chelm. “I would like to go for showers there.”

Sztrajt and his companion Grzegorz Bialas, also from Poland, sleep with half a dozen others under the porticoes in front of the Vatican press office beside St. Peter’s Square.

Bialas said he’s a fan of the pope but thinks the showers are “a bad idea” since they could attract hundreds of homeless to the Vatican. He also said it was possible for the homeless to get a shower elsewhere in Rome.

VIDEO: Our Neighbors in the Pews

In her piece “Compassion in the Stacks” (Sojourners, December 2014), Brittany Shoot brings readers into the San Francisco Public Library’s main branch, where the homeless are invited to rest, search for employment and housing, and receive daily assistance through social services.

Likewise, St. Boniface Catholic church in San Francisco met the same need by opening their doors. From 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, the homeless are welcomed to sleep in the warm and safe pews, even while daily mass is being held.

Read “Compassion in the Stacks” and watch the video below to hear the stories of our San Francisco neighbors in the pews. 

 

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Left Behind

CHRIS PASKI HAS a binder containing computer screen shots of every job he’s applied for in the last year and a half.

“I keep track of everything—I’m an engineer,” he says.

Paski blitzed the commutable radius around his Exton, Pa., home with résumés. He extended his search to Washington, D.C. If he found work there, he planned to sleep in a travel trailer during the week and return home on weekends. Despite impressive experience as an aerospace systems engineer and sending out 270 résumés, he’s scored just one interview. He’s still looking, and he says his faith is intact.

“I know the Lord will take care of me, but he seems to be taking his time,” Paski says, laughing.

But Mike Heaney of West Chester, Pa., doubts that God has a plan for his job search. He remembers a previous bout of unemployment when he lived in North Carolina that changed him.

It was a dark time, he recalls. Problems in his marriage escalated because of unemployment. That led to divorce. Money was tight and medical benefits a luxury. When he needed some major dental work, he drove from North Carolina to Mexico, where it was done for 75 percent less. “They call it dentistry tourism,” he says.

He attended job support groups at a church where he repeatedly heard that God had a plan for anyone who was unemployed. But after seeing the devastation that unemployment caused to the people there, he disagrees with that—a belief he says he’s reconciled with his Catholicism.

Going through a spiritual crisis isn’t uncommon for the jobless. It’s triggered by a job market where the unemployed are in a Hunger Games-style fight for survival: Find a new job in six months or a time bomb goes off. They’ll be labeled then as “long-term unemployed”—out of work for 27 weeks or more, as defined by the U.S. Labor Department.

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Compassion in the Stacks

ON A RECENT Friday afternoon, Joe Bank makes his way quietly through the stacks in the San Francisco Public Library’s main branch. Books aren’t on the 33-year-old’s mind. He’s on the lookout for people in need—people who might need the same social services he once did, when he was homeless and living in a city park.

Bank isn’t just a concerned fellow citizen—though he certainly is that. He’s also on the job, as part of the country’s first in-house, library-specific social work team. Officially, he’s known as a HASA, one of six Health and Safety Associates employed by the library in partnership with the San Francisco Department of Health. The public library HASAs are all formerly homeless, thereby possessing an innate ability to notice the telltale signs of unhoused people in need of a helping hand. Bank’s boss is Leah Esguerra, the country’s first full-time psychiatric social worker employed in a public library.

Esguerra’s small outreach team is tasked with more than answering questions or offering help to clients who need assistance locating or securing social services. HASAs also train library staff on how to respond to patrons in need and how to diffuse and de-escalate tense situations with calm, collected compassion. Furthermore, working as a HASA is a six-to-12-month vocational training program, after which the outreach workers can graduate to other social service jobs. (Bank is currently the only HASA who has stayed on longer than a year.) Esguerra says that because her staffers are all formerly homeless, they find a special purpose in their ability to give back to people in situations similar to their own. “They love the routine and their contribution,” she explains.

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