Faith-Based Help for People Experiencing Homelessness

Homeless woman rummaging through a trash canIt comes as no surprise that churches are on board with the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The principle of sharing material goods with the destitute is a prime directive in every major religion, and if it isn’t, it ought to be. The dates are not exactly the same in each municipality, but the observance of such a Week is an idea whose time has come, and all across America, churches are supporting it.

Did you know there is a Muncy in Pennsylvania? Last Friday, the youth groups of several United Methodist churches banded together to host a “Box City” in the parking lot of Clarkstown UMC, so they could learn first-hand how to have empathy with people experiencing homelessness. Of course, the realism of such events is limited. The kids didn’t even have to go out and scrounge their own refrigerator cartons, which were donated by a local business. But the spirit is definitely in the right place.

Chris Warner, one of the youth leaders, supplied the reporter with details. The participants were…

[…] restricted from having any electronic devices and even food, unless friends and family feed them. A garbage can was filled with sandwiches and snacks organized to look like real garbage… Parishioners provided food and to add realism, half empty bottles of water and wrapped morsels of food where hidden among trash in a dumpster.

The kids didn’t have the experience of real panhandling, but throughout the night they collected cash donations for shelters and food banks. They also received “several truckloads” of food, blankets, and coats, to pass on to local distribution points. The youth were allowed to go into the building for warm-up periods, but apparently, toughing it out was a point of pride. The article quotes one of the teens, Carina Dunlap:

When I told my friends I was sleeping in a box, they just looked at me and asked why? It wasn’t bad sleeping in a box; I was one of two from Clarkstown who didn’t take breaks inside the church.

Another youth, Kelly Reed, said,

It was insane trying to sleep in a cramped box in the freezing cold, and then realize the next morning that’s how some people live their life. We had trouble dealing with it for one night.

In the similar-sounding but differently-spelled Muncie, Indiana, the United Methodist youth held their third annual Lockout for the Homeless, with donations going to the Indianapolis Interfaith Hospitality Network. The Christian Center teamed up with an organization called Alternatives Inc. for an event known as “Reality Check: Confronting Homelessness.”

Same state, different city: In Fort Wayne, Indiana, churches sponsored a Knit-In event where free yarn and knitting lessons were provided, and participants knitted hats and scarves for people experiencing homelessness. In Fort Meyers, Florida, at least 24 faith-based and other organizations have collaborated on a Homeless Service Day and Stand Down at Broadway Community Church. And, of course, there were many more variations on the homeless-simulation experiment.

Kids probably have a lot of fun at these things. How could a bunch of kids get together for a sleepover, and have anything but fun? They probably make some tasteless remarks, and even say jokingly that this homeless gig might not be too bad after all. And what does it mean, really, to perform a sanitized ritual of eating from a garbage can? There are probably people who think that the whole idea is utter nonsense.

But it isn’t. You never know what kind of experience will plant a spark of inspiration in a young person’s mind. Some of these kids will have a different perception next time they see a person eating from a real garbage can. Some of these kids think about it later, alone, at night. They make connections and consider alternatives.

It would be great to hear from some young people who have actually participated in events of this kind. Have you done a homeless sleepout? Did it do anything to your head? If so, what?

Source: “Youth prepare for National Homeless Awareness Week by sleeping in boxes,” The Luminary, 11/09/10
Source: “On Your Side Community Calendar,” The IndyChannel.com, 11/10
Image by Franco Folini, used under its Creative Commons license.

  1. Angela Knight says:

    My husband gets out of Apalachee C.I. in october he will be on probation til end of Jan and we can not reunite as a family until Feb. The girls and I are stuck in Macon Ga. I am looking for a faith based program for him that will help give him spiritual support and guidence and help find him a job then girls and I could go be with him.Preferably in a beachey area. If anyone can help with info plz contact me @ a.knight1017@yahoo.com or call 478 284 2691…..God Bless!!!!

  2. Victoria Willis says:

    I am looking for a faith-based program for spiritual support, guidance, and help in finding a job and another vehicle, because I have lost everything recently, including my home, car, employment, and possessions, and have become stranded in Mcdonough, Ga./Fayetteville, Ga. as a result! There are NO RESOURCES which are ASSESSIBLE to those who have to walk everywhere for services which are simply NOT IN MCDONOUGH OR FAYETTEVILLE, GA., and other Georgia cities devoid of simple public transportation, shelters(more than one or two!), affordable housing for all society levels, jobs which hire for more than just a few hours a week, which is an unrealistic level of employment to call a JOB, and is therefore IMPOSSIBLE for this type of employment to SUSTAIN people needing to PAY BILLS FOR RENT, A MORTGAGE, BUY FOOD, CLOTHING, PROVIDE PAYMENT FOR TRANSPORTATION OF SOME SORT, MEDICINE, UTILITES, etc., on salaries which cannot stretch to meet the most BASIC needs people have!! A relative who had a ‘job’ like this at a Dollar Tree in Mcdonough, Ga. recently, named Candace, could not continue at the job because of so few hours to SUSTAIN her most basic needs for shelter, food, water, and transportation(if she had a car, which she doesn’t), where she had NO WAY TO MEET THOSE NEEDS IN ORDER TO CONTINUE WORKING AT HER JOB!! I, too, in Mcdonough, have had the EXACT SAME PROBLEM of this type of ’employment’, which cannot sustain employees, who seem to have a ‘job’, but the job does not lead to real shelter( a home, apartment, etc.), and NOT homeless shelters no one would recommend for their loved animals, or pets, but seem to have no qualms about throwing human beings into diseased, down trodden places of human misery with NO PROBLEM in forcing people there, who do not all have substance abuse issues which can put them there!! Everyone at a shelter are not all unemployed, by the way, they just do not have enough income to sustain them from staying off the streets of a city. As a result of experiencing this horror of a situation she tried so hard, as did I, to overcome with her cheerful spirit and optimism, which has been worn down into despair, Candace has now gone missing from Mcdonough, Georgia, and was last heard from by me, placed in a shelter in Fayetteville, Georgia, by people who cannot possibly know that they have done the WRONG THING in throwing me here, as the only place to go when jobless, is the ‘shelter system’ NONE of them, as supposed CHRISTIANS naming the name of JESUS CHRIST, and supposing to love their neighbors, would EVER, in their right minds, would want to be themselves, and not just for a week or two, but for years of this misery they don’t REALLY want to experience, or know about!! How would ANYONE now want to have to deal with not only the loss of a job, home, vehicle, possessions, etc. ,but the VERY REAL DISAPPEARANCE OF A RELATIVE LAST SEEN IN MCDONOUGH, GEORGIA, AT A SUPER 8 HOTEL, HAVING THE BELIEF IN HER HEAD THAT SHE IS NOT ABLE TO ‘MAKE IT’ IN A TOWN WITHOUT PITY FOR THE LESS FORTUNATE, EXCEPT TO PATRONIZE THEM, WITHOUT TRULY LOVING THEM, AS FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS, ALSO, AND BEING REFUSED HELP FROM ALL KINDS OF ORGANIZATIONS, INCLUDING CHURCHES, WHOM SHE CALLED, AND WENT TO, MANY TIMES ON FOOT, WITH NO CAR, ONLY TO BE ALWAYS TURNED AWAY WITH NO RESOURCES TO HELP HER, OR ME, SEEING ME GET THE EXACT SAME TREATMENT, AS WELL?!! Candace has not been heard from by her job yesterday, either, and was last heard from on Thursday, October 16, 2014, by them, and they are aware that she had BEGGED them, BEGGED the job, to help her in her darkest hour of need, and was turned away in NEEDING HOUSING, etc., as someone who DIDN’T NEED TO LIVE SOMEWHERE, AND BE ABLE TO PAY FOR IT, IN ORDER TO WORK!!! As a result of all of this, I am now in the position of calling the police, which I did today(Saturday, October 18, 2014), and was told that her job has to file the missing person forms, as they heard from her last. I called the job, and they told me that if she did not show up for work at 5.a.m., Sunday morning, October 19, 2014( FOR WORK, please notice, WHEN SHE HAS NO PLACE TO STAY WHICH IS RELIABLE FROM HER INCOME AT THE JOB PAYING FOR IT!!),THEN, and ONLY THEN, would they bother to send for the police to bother to try and locate her, when EVERY SECOND someone who has not been heard from, whose phones are not answered when called by others, her last known place to stay for a moment cannot account for her EITHER, and no one has seen her, INCLUDING HER JOB, could mean the difference between this person being found alive—or NOT!!! So, I am going on the internet with this story about Candace and myself, also stranded, who could end up disappearing when leaving Promise Place in Fayetteville, Georgia, in a few short weeks, with no place to go, as well, and no job, and a vehicle to get to the job, because of the above situation!! I have no experience with posting comments about missing persons!!! If ANYONE has experience with this, and have godly good intentions, and truly want to help this family, and help find Candace and reassure her that SOMEONE really does care for her plight, and mine, then call me at (770)626-5247, or email me at gwill592@outlook.com, as soon as possible, as every second for Candace’s life counts for eternity!! Thank you.