I heard about the rotating shelter model in a few communities, yet my first experience was last year at Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter near Detroit. At the church hosting the week of our visit we met Lori and Savanna, Dawn and Ryle, and Leon, a homeless veteran with a powerful story. This year, which just happened to be the same church as last year, we met LaQuisha and her daughter and Anthony.
Flickr Creative Commons: Credit Kristine Diven
I love the rotating shelter model. Besides the obvious impact (please watch Anthony's story) I love different faith based organizations working together to help hurting people. If you've been reading this blog or following me on twitter you've heard me talk about faith-based initiatives being the answer to homelessness, but, as is, the evangelical church is stuck on stupid.
OK right there I know some Christians turned off. It's OK to complain about service at a restaurant, or at an electronic store, or at Starbucks, or about an elected official, but it's never OK to talk bad about what's wrong in the church -- right? WRONG! That form of pressure to keep us silent is called "manipulation", and for a long time pastors have used tactics like manipulation to maintain ultimate power. The church needs to change -- the church must change, and we need to engage in open conversation about what's good and what's not so good. There is a revolution coming and it's not going to come from the pulpit.
Typical church homeless services consists of either feeding people randomly in a park, or housing homeless people forcing them to pray and read the bible. Even though churches have good intentions and mean well, randomly feeding people in a park often causes more harm than good. Housing homeless people is a serious step in the right direction, but two bible studies a day and sweeping floors is not a healthy program. It's just structure and when the structure is gone people go back to their old ways. We say we are creating "disciples" but the truth is we are not giving a person life skills needed to live a healthy, productive life in today's society.
We, all of us, must change our thinking to focus only on housing, jobs and health services. If we are doing homeless services at some level our benchmark must be putting people into housing, finding people jobs, or helping those with disabilities -- who cannot work -- live a productive life. Feeding people randomly does not get people into housing or employment. The typical church program won't help people with mental illness (we make the bible out to have magic powers, yet we carefully select who goes into our church programs leaving out the severely mentally ill).
But every single church, or temple, or bridge club, or bowling team can work together to support a rotating shelter. The Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team is a group of 90 churches that pool resources to help 60 homeless people get back on their feet. Some churches provide housing, some vans for transportation, some cool meals, and everyone wins. Like I said I visited twice. Both times the old church ladies in the back were having a blast. The smiles were endless. Although it was just a meal prepared and served, it was combined with a strategy to get people into housing and support services.
I urge you, no I beg you. If you're a faith based leader please look at what real effect you have on the community around you. If your tech or worship budget is higher then what you are putting back into the community you are off balance. And to be honest, the only churches that will see growth in the years to come are the ones that are truly helping the hurting people around them -- and not just their own members. Please start working with other organizations instead of being the Lone Ranger. And if the need is there, and I would bet that it is, please find a rotating shelter around you or start one.
Here is an interview with executive director, Rhonda Powell. We talk about the rotating shelter model and the current state of the economy. This is a very powerful interview with lots of information. Please watch and share.
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