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Will Churches Help the Homeless? - BCNN1

Will Churches Help the Homeless?

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The task sounded easy enough: Find 50 churches willing to shelter a dozen homeless women for one week at a time. That way, the Salvation Army's Center of Hope wouldn't have to put anybody on the street when the recently reopened Emergency Winter Shelter closes on Sept. 1.

 

But Steve Brumm has been working the phones for three weeks, and he's found only 11 churches willing to do it. He has called 25 so far.

"It's a very difficult task, and that's coming from an old sales guy," says Brumm, 50, a self-employed investor who volunteered to coordinate the project for the Salvation Army.

"There's no real pitch to be made. I just explain: 'Here's the need and here's how this would work.' Typically, they either get it or they don't."

Brumm is undeterred, given the fact that Mecklenburg County has 700 houses of worship and the widely accepted belief is that most are willing to help. "I've had at least two churches agree to take in people for two weeks," he says, sounding encouraged.

Any congregation that participates is signing on for an experiment. For years, the Center of Hope has turned to the faith community to help with its overflow of homeless.

But this plan is more ambitious than anything the shelter has tried. It calls for twice as many congregations to take in twice as many homeless women - and to keep them for seven nights, rather than one.

The goal is to find shelter for at least 100 women from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1, the period between the closing of the winter shelter and the reopening of the Room in the Inn winter program operated by the Urban Ministry Center. The latter is already supported by more than 100 congregations.

Brumm says he's only had one direct "no" from the churches he's contacted about the new program. The reason: The church said it is already housing homeless families.

Others have been vaguer in their lack of support, "shuffling" him through bureaucracies, he says, promising to pass on his request to church elders and trustees.

Brumm's quest bumps into a bigger question: How should churches help the community cope with the worst economic conditions in a generation, even as they cope with their own financial problems?

Mecklenburg Ministries is helping organize a public meeting in August to find answers. Co-sponsors include Community Building Initiative and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee.

"The houses of faith in Charlotte are one of our best assets," says Maria Hanlin, director of Mecklenburg Ministries.

"What we need is to determine how the faith community can more strategically work together to maximize our efforts rather than duplicate."

James Howell, senior pastor at Myers Park United Methodist, believes congregations will rise to the challenge.

"Urgent need makes us want to step up," he says. "It's part of our identity to build the community up by helping those in need, sacrificing for others."

Deronda Metz, director of the Center of Hope, came up with the idea of seeking out churches in response to record numbers of people showing up at shelters - the same need that persuaded her to use the city's winter shelter in the middle of the summer.

Charlotte has about 6,550 homeless, and a recent Urban Ministry survey concluded the county needs hundreds more beds and spaces for families and individuals.

"I didn't ask Steve (Brumm) to take on this job for us. He offered, after hearing me talk about the need," says Metz. "He took on a heck of a commitment."

Brumm, a husband and father of three, was familiar with the need, having coordinated a homeless-outreach program at his own church, Lake Forest Church in Huntersville.

Lake Forest helped the Center of Hope with overflow the past two years, and supports Room in the Inn. It also has agreed to participate in the new program.

So has Covenant Presbyterian, a congregation of 1,700 on Morehead Street. More than 100 women from the church have volunteered to cook meals, among other tasks.

"We have over 3,500 homeless children in the school system, and I can't imagine what it's like to raise a child in a car or a motel room," says Carla Leaf, director of Covenant's mission and outreach programs.

"Churches can step in and help, but we aren't the solution. ... Governments need to work together to find a solution."

Brumm still believes more congregations can - and will - step forward.

"When Christ commanded 'Love God and then love your neighbors,' he was talking about these neighbors, the people who are vulnerable."

Source: Charlotte Observer

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