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Homelessness: Faithful Collaborations

by Pastor Susan

Dear Presbyterians and friends,

For the sake of everyone’s well-being and good communication, I write this letter regarding the ministry of First Presbyterian Church and our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

We do not want people to need to sleep in our garden.

We want everyone to have a safe and affordable home. And yet, some people have no place to go. When the Helping Hands Overflow Shelter closes in the spring, our community loses 54 beds. Our congregation gave generously to have a new shelter built a few years ago, but those plans were quashed and the funds used for other purposes.

Our staff and members have been participants in the new local Coalition for Permanent Supportive Housing. The group brings together the City of Springfield, Sangamon County, non-profit service providers, the hospitals, local ministries, and other stake holders to create a Housing First program. This program is the broadest, most successful, evidence-based model we know of to significantly reduce homelessness. A significant step toward this reality is the Center for Health and Housing for which a property has been purchased by Helping Hands pending a zoning change.

We do not have all the programs people in the community need, but we serve neighbors.

Reducing homelessness will require coordinated effort which is why we currently collaborate with community partners. We focus on the ministries for which we have gifts and skills. We welcome anyone to worship with us because we understand that this is God’s church and we seek to follow Jesus who taught us that the way we treat the least of these is how we treat him. Our Samaritan Ministries offer food, birth certificates, state ID cards, some assistance with transportation to medical appointments and jobs. The Hands and Feet program utilizes our facility and is staffed by Helping Hands and nurses from St. John’s. They wash people’s feet, do health assessments, and make referrals for follow up.

We do not want criminal activity happening on our corner.

If we know of a person breaking the law on our property, we work with the Springfield Police Department to remove them and/or prosecute them as the situation warrants. We have regular contact with our Neighborhood Officer, the Homeless Outreach Officer, and others to work cooperatively. We know that the people who have been arrested for assault on the corner of 7th and Capitol are not the people who sometimes sleep on our property. However, some of those who have sought sanctuary on church property have been victims. Our Personnel Committee is discussing hiring a security guard for the evening hours when most disturbances have happened.

We are good neighbors.

We are in conversation with the Lincoln Library, the Lincoln Home National Park, and the Federal Courthouse staff regarding combined efforts to request the City provide public toilet facilities and support the Center for Health and Housing. We are glad for these coordinated efforts. We are also in conversation with the Washington Street Mission about their potential for a day center and extended services.

We are all children of God.

One addition to this conversation is that our engagement with our members and those experiencing homelessness are places of ministry. With both groups of people, our staff and members pray, listen, work, and worship. Both groups are children of God and members of the body of Christ. Both groups attend worship. Both make messes. Both are sometimes nice to one another and sometimes not. People are messy. We are all flawed. We all need forgiveness. We are indispensable to one another (1 Corinthians 12).

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